March 5. 2024. 9:50

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Top UN official seeks progress in visit to divided Cyprus

A senior United Nations official made her first trip to the divided island of Cyprus Wednesday (15 March) looking for “a way forward” as positions harden in one of the world’s longest-running disputes.

Rosemary DiCarlo, under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs, met for about one hour with newly elected Cyprus president and Greek Cypriot leader Nikos Christodoulides at the presidential palace in Nicosia, the world’s last divided capital.

Pleased to have a detailed exchange with H.E. Nikos @Christodulides regarding the #Cyprus issue in Nicosia today. I reiterated the @UN’s continued commitment to peace on the island.

— Rosemary A. DiCarlo (@DicarloRosemary) March 15, 2023

The Mediterranean island is split between the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus and the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

Proclaimed after Turkey launched a 1974 invasion in response to a Greek-sponsored coup, the TRNC is recognised only by Ankara and covers the northern third of the island.

There have been no formal UN-sponsored peace talks for nearly six years.

The last round collapsed at Crans-Montana, Switzerland, in July 2017, almost a year before DiCarlo took up her current post dealing with the world’s major conflict zones.

“We discussed at length the Cyprus issue and we just want to reiterate the commitments of the secretary general to supporting a resolution,” DiCarlo told reporters after her talks with Christodoulides.

She declined to take questions.

A former foreign minister backed by parties that take a hard line on reunification talks, Christodoulides won a runoff election in February.

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DiCarlo reported “an excellent meeting” with him and said she was also going “to discuss further a way forward” with Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar.

She later reported a “very fruitful meeting” with Tatar, including on “the need to strengthen technical committees”, according to a video of her remarks posted on the UN Cyprus Twitter account.

The 12 committees on a range of issues including culture and gender equality are designed to allow the two communities to discuss and address issues of common concern.

Christodoulides and Tatar had their first meeting last month. The Greek Cypriot leader described it as a courtesy call and said he wanted “nothing more than breaking the deadlock”.

Prospects ‘continue to fade’

Tatar, a protege of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has urged the international community to “acknowledge the existence” of two states in Cyprus.

That is in stark opposition to the position of Christodoulides. He has said he supports a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation in line with the United Nations framework, but wants a greater European Union role in the negotiations.

Cyprus joined the EU in 2004. According to its accession treaty the entire territory of the island of Cyprus is EU territory.

Cyprus government spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis said the message given to DiCarlo was a determination for the immediate resumption of negotiations.

“We are already at the negotiating table, and we also expect Mr Tatar to come with a sincere will to the negotiating table to achieve a solution of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation,” said Letymbiotis.

Before leaving Cyprus on Thursday, DiCarlo is to meet some of the nearly 800 UN peacekeepers who patrol the buffer zone, including in Famagusta where she will fly by helicopter.

The area is adjacent to the abandoned Varosha hotel strip, part of which the north has controversially reopened.

The buffer zone runs across the island and through Nicosia, where buildings abandoned for decades crumble behind passages blocked by rusting oil drums.

Set up in 1964, the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) is one of the longest-running UN Blue Helmet operations in the world.

In his twice-yearly report to the Security Council in January, UN chief António Guterres expressed concerns including “ongoing militarisation of the ceasefire lines” and a political climate marked by “significant hardening of positions” on both sides.

A surge in tough rhetoric from north and south of the divide “has led to increased rigidity while the prospects for a mutually agreeable settlement continue to fade”, he said.