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Our View: Goodwill needed if crossings ever to be reopened

The announcement that the bicommunal committee on health had been instructed to create a roadmap to reopen the crossing points was welcome news on Tuesday but people on both sides should not get their hopes up too soon.

Meetings have already been held to discuss opening the crossings on the basis of scientific criteria, according to the Greek Cypriot head of the committee and epidemiologists from both sides also took part in the last meeting.

The closing of the crossing points in the early stages of the pandemic has been a travesty for relations between people in the two communities who had been free to come and go for 18 years this month.

According to the committee head, they brought experts from both sides to see if there were common criteria that would allow the crossings to be opened gradually. It is not a roadmap with a timetable but a roadmap based on epidemiological criteria, he said.

That all sounds sensible. Tellingly however, a separate article published by the Cyprus News Agency, also on Tuesday, cited a ‘diplomatic source’, which is a generally a euphemism for someone in the government, likely the foreign ministry to justify the ‘diplomatic’ tag, said the crossings would open “when the conditions allow, and a political decision is made”.

Reopening the crossings should not be a political decision. That’s the last thing it needs to be. The political decision to open the crossings was made in 2003 and they were not ‘officially’ shut down last year for political reasons, we’re told, though some might disagree with the way the closures were handled and suspect other agendas were at play. The decision to reopen should therefore be based purely on epidemiological data from both sides, not politicians’ interpretations of the scientific data for their own ends.

There’s no doubt that given the number of shenanigans that went on when the crossings were closed and the mixed messages ordinary people received about who could cross, who couldn’t cross, people being kept apart for months at a time, plus testing and quarantine differences, reopening them in a smooth fashion will not be an easy task especially if the same agendas remain in play.

It will require real cooperation and goodwill and those two attributes always seem to be in short supply even as the two sides head to Geneva to try and find a way forward for new talks. Coronavirus is the gift that keeps on giving for all sorts of political reasons and if anyone is capable of exploiting it for the purposes of brinkmanship, it’s politicians on both sides in Cyprus.

Even if it all went well and the two sides refrained from one-upmanship, the scientific data as it stands now on both sides means there is still a long, long way to go before the crossings can be reopened.

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