A crack in the wall

Two months after intensive negotiations to end Cyprus’s division broke down, thousands of people on the island crossed the buffer zone yesterday as restrictions on movement eased for the first time since the Turkish invasion of 1974 sliced Cyprus into two. By 7 p.m., some 2,500 Turkish Cypriots had crossed south and 1,607 Greek Cypriots had gone into the north, the Athens News Agency reported. All had to be back by midnight. Warily at first and then more quickly, Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots began to cross. Turkish Cypriots had to show their Cypriot identity documents while Greek Cypriots had to show passports – something to which the Cypriot government objected. But Kathimerini’s correspondent Costas Gennaris said that later Greek Cypriots did not have to show their passports to the Turkish-Cypriot authorities. People visited homes and neighbors they had not seen in 29 years, with tearful reunions reported from villages. The Cypriot government played down the significance of the day, with Foreign Minister George Iacovou saying the easing of restrictions by the Turkish Cypriots was a vain effort to make an impression. «The wall is not falling, the Cyprus issue has not been solved,» said government spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides. But the mood appeared to be festive at the Ledra Palace checkpoint in Nicosia, Europe’s last divided capital. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, in Brussels, also hailed the greater freedom of movement. «Today was quite an important event for thousands of citizens. It is quite a festive day today in Cyprus,» he told reporters. «This is something that we as the EU can only welcome… this contact between the citizens,» he said. «We are seeing at the level of society, of citizens, both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots wanting to break down the dividing wall that has divided the island for close to 30 years.» Adrian van der Meer, EU ambassador on the island, said: «Things like this should be part of a comprehensive settlement.» Talks broke off on Feb. 2. In Washington, President George W. Bush said he was disappointed by the failure of UN-brokered peace talks for Cyprus but still hopeful of finding a peaceful way to reunify the island. «Despite this setback, the United States remains committed to finding a just and lasting settlement for Cyprus,» Bush said in a letter to congressional leaders on the status of diplomatic efforts.