Will Cyprus be Re-unified by the End of 2008?

by : Michael Kelsey

President Christofias swept to power in late February as his AKEL communist party received 53.4% of the vote, beating the conservative candidate loannis Kasoulides who polled 46.6% of Cypriot ballots in a second round of voting.

Almost immediately after news broke of the election result, representatives from the UN, the EU and global governments sent massages of congratulations and urged the newly elected leader to meet with his TRNC counterpart and thrash out a deal.

'The United Nations remains committed to providing support to President Christofias and President Mehmet Ali Talat in their common search for a solution, 'said Michael Moller, special representative to the Secretary General in Cyprus , in a statement sent to President Christofias.

While in Brussels, EU president Jose Manuel Barroso said that he was confident the momentum of this election victory would help in finding a lasting settlement.

'Your election offers the opportunity to overcome the longstanding stalemate on the Cyprus issue, ' he said. ' I would strongly encourage you to grasp this chance and without delay start negotiations under UN auspices with the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community on a comprehensive settlement.'

President Christofias has pledged to meet with President Talat, however no date has yet been confirmed. The South Cypriot president said: 'Naturally the UN will be involved as usual, and I believe that soon we will arrange a first exploratory meeting,' he suggested. Speaking at a press conference given after the election, President Talat welcomed the news of a possible meeting with President Christofias, adding that the two once shared a common ground and have known each other for some time. 'I believe that it won't be a surprise if we solve the problem by the end of 2008,' he predicted.

Previous attempts at unifying the island failed when Greek Cypriots rejected the Annan Plan, named after former Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan who tired to broker a power sharing deal in 2004. This was rejected by many Greek Cypriots as a pro-Turkish solution and although viewed by Turkish Cypriots as a pro-Greek answer to the problem, some 75% voted in favor of the plan to help end the territory's international isolation for the last 35 years. The Turkish government is also keen on helping to broker a deal in Cyprus, which is regarded by many analysts as a significant obstacle preventing it from reaching EU membership. The Greek government is also interested in a potential deal after pressures from its NATO allies which believe tensions between the two countries could upset the military alliance.

One political source inside the Greek government believes a deal could be a real possibility by the end of the year as both the Turkish and Greek governments support for the divided island starts to waver. 'The talk here is hat both sides want this settled,' he said.' I believe that as long as both sides receive support from all parties, than the island could start the long process of reunification by November this year.'

A key driver of the possible settlement on the island is how it would be perceived by the island's citizens, both north and south. The UK believes that part of the initial process should involve the opening of more crossing points in Lefkosa and around the island's green zone. Moller said in a statement last month that there should be another crossing point opened in Lefkosa's Ledra Street which was divided in the 1960s after fighting broke out between rival factions in the city. 'I'm very optimistic. There is no reason why it shouldn't happen,' said the UN official. Moller added that once a deal had been reached, he thought the opening of more crossings would happen 'very rapidly' and that it would make the possibility of unity an easier pill to swallow.

However, despite all the positive news surrounding the election, Greek President Karolos Papoulias has taken the opportunity to rattle sabers and further complicate a difficult and complicated historical situation.

'You assume the highest office of the Republic of Cyprus in times which continue to be difficult. We believe, however, that it is time to put an end to the inadmissible situation whereby a European Union member-state is occupied by Turkey, and to demolish the last wall still dividing a European capital.'