By Angelos Anastasiou
Cyprus’ political and religious leaders met under one roof on Thursday at the Ledra Palace hotel in the buffer zone under the auspices of the Swedish embassy to Cyprus.
It was attended by President Nicos Anastasiades, Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, Archbishop Chrysostomos, Mufti Talip Atalay, Maronite Archbishop Soueif, Armenian Archbishop Nareg, Catholic Bishop Jerzy Kraj, and Sweden’s ambassador Klas Gierow.
The session was preceded by a one-hour meeting of the religious leaders, while Anastasiades and Akinci arrived shortly before lunchtime.
“Cyprus’ church heads reiterated their support to the negotiations for a settlement of the Cyprus problem,” said facilitator of the Swedish-led interreligious dialogue Peter Weiderud after the meeting.
He added that the island’s religious leaders asked Anastasiades and Akinci to ease restrictions on movement to religious grounds, noting that despite practical issues that need to be tackled, the communities’ political leaders pledged to work in this direction.
It was also decided that such sessions continue on a regular basis, Weiderud said.
He noted that the interreligious dialogue has recorded significant progress since it started in 2009.
“At the time, religious leaders had no contact with one another – they only addressed their own communities – since the start of intercommunal strife in 1963,” Weiderud said.
And although the Cyprus problem is not a religious conflict, religion and religious freedom became its victims, while sometimes it was used to fuel the conflict, he noted.
“Freedom of religion and belief, as part of individual human rights, includes the freedom to choose a religion that respects everyone with respect,” Weiderud said.
Asked whether the principle of unrestricted access to religious sites has been discussed, the Swedish diplomat said the issue is the object of ongoing discussion.
“It is fully understood by the political leadership, and they fully accept the principle,” he said.
“It is a basic principle of human rights, but there are certain practical problems that need to be resolved before it is implemented.”
He declined to elaborate on what the “practical problems” were, saying only that they were the result of “conflict and division”.
“Hundreds of worship sites and monuments present accessibility problems and restrictions on both sides,” he said.
“It is a huge problem, but it must be dealt with in the proper and viable way.”