By Paul Taylor
President Nicos Anastasiades said on Wednesday he aims to achieve a peace settlement with the Turkish Cypriots this year to reunite the divided east Mediterranean island and he urged the international community to help fund a deal.
In an interview with Reuters on the eve of an unprecedented joint appearance with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci before global political and business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, he also said he expected Britain to contribute by giving up some of the land it uses for sovereign bases in Cyprus, a former British colony.
“At the moment now in our neighbourhood we are witnessing many clashes and enormous bloodshed. Both of us agree, I myself and Mustafa (Akinci), we are working tirelessly in order to find a solution and a model of how coexistence could be between Christians and Muslims in peace,” Anastasiades said.
He declined to give a detailed timeframe for a deal, saying there were still difficult differences to resolve, notably around the return of property and compensation.
“We are working hard. We have made progress. But there are still differences. It’s not an easy problem. Therefore what I’m expecting and what I wish is within this year, 2016, to find a solution. But no time limits or timeframes,” the president said.
Cyprus has been split since Turkey invaded the north in 1974 in response to a short-lived coup in Nicosia by Greek Cypriots backed by the then military rulers in Greece.
A previous attempt to negotiate a solution, just before Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, foundered when Greek Cypriots voted to reject a United Nations-backed peace plan that was accepted by the Turkish Cypriots.
Asked why he thought prospects were better now, Anastasiades said he expected any new agreement would address the reasons why Greek Cypriots had rejected the previous plan.
He also said Cyprus’ need for international investment as it emerges from an EU/IMF bailout programme following a banking collapse in 2014, along with the discovery of substantial offshore gas reserves, offered new incentives for a settlement.
Both sides wanted to find solutions without winners and losers, he said, underlining his personal respect for Akinci.
“I have to admit that the new Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr Akinci, is a man with whom I can share the same vision for the reunification of the island, for a solution that will create a model state, a European state which will respect human rights. All these are elements which were missing in 2004,” he said.
Asked what support they would seek in Davos, he said any Cyprus deal would require “billions of euros” in financial aid.
Cyprus would also need expertise and advice from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and investment in its economic recovery.
Anastasiades said Turkey, which still has more than 30,000 troops on the island, was using “positive” rhetoric, but added: “What we need now is to see in practice some movement.”
Cyprus would lift its obstruction of Turkey’s European Union accession negotiations and become Ankara’s strongest supporter for EU membership if it facilitated a peace deal, he said.
“I do believe that the hydrocarbon discoveries are one more incentive we have and why Turkey should help us in finding a solution,” he added.
Asked how Britain, which has two sprawling military bases on Cyprus that it uses to monitor communications in the Middle East and stage air operations, could help a peace deal, Anastasiades said: “In return of land, and of course in expertise.”
He said London had already signalled readiness to help.