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United demand to open crossing at Dherynia (Updated)

The Dherynia crossing point has been a long-standing demand (Photo: Hüseyin Harmani)

By George Psyllides

Greek and Turkish Cypriots on Saturday united in demanding the opening of the Dherynia crossing in Famagusta, a day after it was announced that filling a ‘visa’ slip would no longer be required by the Turkish Cypriot side at crossing points.

The ‘paperless crossings’ became official on Saturday after a trial run at some checkpoints on Friday.

On Saturday, members of Famagusta, our City, and Turkish Cypriot group Famagusta Initiative, assembled on the two sides of the divide to voice their demand for opening the ‘Avenue for the Return.’

In a joint declaration, the groups stressed that opening the road would promote co-operation and cultivate dialogue, thus building trust between the two communities and peace in Cyprus.

Pavlos Iacovou, for Famagusta, Our City, and Famagusta Initiative’s Serdan Atay, handed the UN the declaration addressed to the international organisation’s Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Famagusta, our City, said opening the road would be a first step towards the resettlement of Varosha.

Varosha has been a ‘ghost city’ since its Greek Cypriot inhabitants fled in August 1974 as Turkish troops advanced.

The organisation said it saw Varosha going through a transitional phase until the resettlement of its residents and easy access through the Dherynia crossing was necessary.

Opening the crossing would also cut travel time, boost relations between the two communities, and help in time of emergencies.

Famagusta Mayor Alexis Galanos said this was the time to stake a claim.

“Opening the Dherynia checkpoint is one step. Opening Varoshia is an even bigger step for the reunification of Cyprus,” he said.

Galanos said Cyprus must take advantage of the window of opportunity after 41 years.

The event came a day after newly elected Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci announced that filling the ‘visa’ slip would no longer be required.

A symbolic gesture, the move was part of confidence building measures (CBMs) designed to boost confidence between the two communities, as the leaders deal with the substantive aspects of the Cyprus problem.

On Friday, the two leaders instructed their negotiators, Andreas Mavroyiannis and Ozdil Nami, to come up with a joint list of CBMs that may be announced after their next meeting on May 28.

The list may include opening more crossings across the island, although it is understood that the negotiators were asked to come up with other ideas also. Currently, there are seven crossings, two inside the British base of Dhekelia.

Last year, President Nicos Anastasiades proposed the opening of five new crossings to Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu but the issue did not go far.

The most likely locations for future crossings include, Dherynia, Pyroi-Athienou, which has been a longstanding demand of the area’s residents, and Lefka, wanted by Turkish Cypriots. Rumours have been also swirling that demands would be made for a crossing at Paphos Gate in Nicosia’s old town.

Friday’s talks were the first between the two sides in seven months.

Akinci’s election in the meantime renewed hope that the island’s division could come to an end in the near future.

“In this prevailing climate of optimism, and encouraged by the momentum that is building across he island, the two leaders underscored their shared will to reach a comprehensive settlement, UN Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide said on Friday, adding that Anastasiades and Akinci undertook to work tirelessly to resolve the matter as soon as possible.

The leader of AKEL, the party expected to play an important role in the solution process, along with ruling DISY, expressed cautious optimism over the resumption of the talks.

“I think the first step was encouraging in the sense that a very good climate has been created, some CBMs have been decided, which I think are in the right direction, and this can create cautious optimism concerning the prospects,” Andros Kyprianou said on Saturday.

In London meanwhile, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides stressed that Greek Cypriots had two choices: go with the all or nothing approach and maintain the presence of the Turkish army and the settlers, at the same time raising the prospects of upgrading the breakaway state; or seek a viable solution through the ongoing negotiations.

“A solution that will be found by Cypriots for all Cypriots; a solution fully compatible with the European acquis that will secure human rights and lead to Turkey’s departure from Cyprus,” Kasoulides said on Friday.

Meanwhile, Russia said it was prepared to co-operate with its international partners to ensure progress in the Cyprus problem, a foreign ministry spokeswoman has said, welcoming the resumption of talks.

“We commend this step and hope the sides will spare no effort to reach a fair, comprehensive and lasting settlement of the Cyprus dispute on the basis of corresponding resolutions of the United Nations Security Council,” Maria Zakharova said.

Russia, she said, was ready to co-operate with its partners in the UN Security Council to create favourable external conditions for progress at the talks.

“We think the parties concerned should offer support to Cyprus’ communities and try to avoid any steps that might hamper the dialogue,” she said.

Russia believes that any attempts to impose artificial time limits or ready-to-use settlement solutions are unacceptable.

“A mutually acceptable and lasting compromise solution can only be agreed by Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots,” Zakharova added.

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