Cyprus crossings ‘prove communities can coexist’

More than 120,000 Cypriots have crossed their divided island in the week since travel restrictions were eased, police said yesterday, visiting their birthplaces and meeting people from the other side for the first time in 29 years. Prime Minister Costas Simitis spoke on the telephone yesterday with Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos to discuss the past week’s developments, government spokesman Christos Protopappas said in Athens. «They hailed the wave of reconciliation in Cyprus, which proves that the Cypriot people wishes to overcome the past,» Protopappas said. «Our common position is that efforts to resolve the Cyprus problem must continue within the framework of the United Nations.» In Nicosia, Cypriot government spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides said the mass movement «has conclusively shattered the myth of (Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf) Denktash that the two communities cannot live together.» Today, Nicosia is to announce economic support measures for Turkish Cypriots. The mass crossings – which yesterday involved some 24,000 Greek Cypriots and over 2,000 Turkish Cypriots – became possible after Denktash announced a partial lifting of travel bans last Wednesday, allowing citizens to cross the UN buffer zone provided they returned by midnight. Yesterday, Denktash said Greek Cypriots could spend up to three nights in the Turkish-occupied north of the island, provided they stayed in hotels. Turkish Cypriots were still limited strictly to day trips. Cyprus has a total population of 720,000. In remarks quoted by Reuters, the Turkish-Cypriot leader spoke of a «honeymoon season» between Turkish and Greek Cypriots, but added that any agreement allowing Greek Cypriots to resettle in the north could revive past communal conflict. «So this friendship now, this honeymoon season, is very good, but one should not be mistaken that it is there to stay forever because the political reasons for conflict still exist,» Denktash said. He said he wanted the crossings to stay open so long as there is no sign of a repeat of the intercommunal violence that scarred the island in the 1960s and 1970s. «We have no intention (of closing it) unless very serious incidents occur,» he said. The travel relaxation was seen as a move by the Turkish side to counter international blame for the collapse of UN reunification talks last month. The new rules also followed Cyprus’s April 16 signing of its European Union accession agreement, opening the way for it to become a member on May 1, 2004. Massive Turkish-Cypriot demonstrations last month demanded the resignation of Denktash for rejecting the UN plan and thus blocking the accession of a united Cyprus to the EU. As on previous days, thousands of people waited for up to 30 hours yesterday, mainly at the Nicosia Ledra Palace checkpoint, to cross the buffer zone. Some spent the night in cars waiting in lines stretching for more than 16 kilometers (10 miles). Turkish-Cypriot authorities announced yesterday that they would open two more crossing points: at Aghios Dometios in western Nicosia which leads to the city of Keryneia, and in the area of Morphou.