EU welcomes closer links in Cyprus

The European Commission yesterday welcomed the measures announced by the Cypriot government on Thursday to effectively end the blockade of the Turkish-occupied north and said it will present a package to facilitate trade between the EU and the island’s northern part on May 21. The package will include 15 million euros in aid to the north, said Jean-Christophe Filori, spokesman for Enlargement Commissioner Gunter Verheugen. «We welcome any measure that seeks to bring the two communities together… the Commission is preparing a package seeking to encourage the economic rapprochement of the northern part of Cyprus to the rest of Cyprus,» he said. The Cypriot government’s measures, which include allowing Turkish Cypriots to seek jobs in the south, have come amid an unprecedented opening of the line that has divided the two sides of the island since Turkey occupied the northern third in 1974, in response to a Greek-Cypriot coup. Thousands of people from both sides have crossed into the other part and mingled freely and, mostly, peacefully. Yesterday, Cyprus allowed direct phone calls both to the occupied north and Turkey, in a further step toward breaking down barriers. Despite the overall climate of good will between the two sides, there were warnings yesterday from Greek-Cypriot politicians to their citizens that the Turkish-Cypriot authorities intended to use the opening of the borders to cement the status quo and force international recognition of their entity – which is only recognized by Turkey at present. They also advised Greek Cypriots not to stay at hotels in the occupied north. That advice has gone unheeded, as delighted proprietors in the north have said that their clientele has quadrupled, according to newspaper Kibris. Yesterday, Turkish-Cypriot authorities released 16 Greek Cypriots, including a 78-year-old woman, who had been arrested on Thursday for crossing illegally. Three others, who tried to take with them the bell from their former church, now a mosque, at the village of Spathariko, were released on bail.