CYPRUS: No sign of peace talks but mobile phone interoperability agreed

Cypriot leaders agreed on Tuesday to improve the divided Island’s mobile phone connectivity but no word on the stunted UN-backed peace process that collapsed 19 months ago.

The United Nations on Tuesday hosted an informal meeting between rival Cypriot leaders to try and move closer to resuming Cyprus reunification talks that crashed in Switzerland in 2017.

After Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci met at Nicosia’s UN compound in the buffer zone, a UN statement made no mention of the resumption of talks.

This is an indication that both sides are unable to resolve their differences but need to show they are at least willing to improve the climate of trust that has slowly evaporated.

The meeting � to reignite momentum in stalled talks – was hosted by Elizabeth Spehar, head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Cyprus.

It seems the main topic of (political) discussion was Anastasiades proposals for a decentralised federal system of government post-solution � a move away from previously advocating a strong federal centre which has been bogged down in power-sharing arguments.

They had a constructive exchange of views in a cordial atmosphere. Mr. Anastasiades presented his ideas on decentralization and the two leaders discussed in depth the basic principles, said the UN statement.

It said the leaders were committed to intensifying confidence-building measures with the objective of improving the daily lives of all Cypriots.

They decided to implement the confidence-building measure regarding mobile phone interoperability through separate agreements of the operators on both sides with a hub based in Europe, in order to facilitate greater interaction between the two communities, said the UN.

It also announced that the interconnectivity of the two electricity grids, as agreed in 2015, has now been achieved. In this regard, leaders decided to make the temporary electricity supply arrangement permanent and without restriction. They acknowledged that the transfer of electricity will continue on an as-needed basis.

The Turkish-held north of the divided island frequently experiences power outages and additional supplies of electricity are required from the Greek Cypriot south.

The leaders agreed to the clearance of nine suspected hazardous areas on both sides of the island, with a view to working towards a mine-free Cyprus, said the UN.

On a cultural note, Akinci agreed to hand over Greek Cypriot paintings kept in the north while Anastasiades said audio and visual recordings of Turkish Cypriot artists would be handed over.

Here again, there was no decision on urgently repairing mediaeval churches crumbling in the buffer zone following a plea by religious leaders across the divide and famous opera singer Placido Domingo as head of heritage body Europa Nostra.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a recent report to the Security Council that a peace deal to reunify Cyprus was still alive despite the collapse of talks at an UN-backed Swiss summit in July 2017.

Only the third meeting

There have been no official Cyprus negotiations between the two sides since then and this was the only third meeting of the leaders.

The United Nations has made clear it will not fully engage in a new peace process unless Cypriot leaders are committed into entering negotiations in a spirit of compromise.

The last talks aimed at reunifying the island as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation collapsed in Switzerland last year after the UN chief failed to get the parties to agree on a post-settlement security arrangement for Cyprus.

It was the first time Cyprus talks involved the guarantor powers of Britain, Greece and Turkey.

Under the island’s 1960 treaty of independence, the three countries secured intervention rights to safeguard the island’s sovereignty, but the Greek Cypriots want these scrapped while the Turkish Cypriots are reluctant to do so.

The other stumbling block is that Anastasiades wants all Turkish troops to leave the island after a solution is reached while Akinci is opposed to this idea.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied its northern third in response to a coup sponsored by the military junta then ruling Greece.

Tensions in the region heightened after Nicosia stepped up its search for natural gas reserves, a move opposed by Turkey.

Turkey and Cyprus stepped up gas exploration and drilling efforts in late 2018, while Ankara and Nicosia have been at odds over Turkish Cypriots’ share in gas revenues and Turkey’s territorial claims that overlap with Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The EU — of which Cyprus is a member state while Turkey is not — condemned Turkey’s actions in the eastern Mediterranean in trying to block oil and gas exploration in Cyprus’ maritime zone.

Commerciality of the island’s gas reserves are far from assured, but Nicosia is confident it can be a regional gas hub offering the security of supply for Europe.

Source: The Financial Mirror