NEWS

Denktash says he is ready to clear Cyprus land mines

NICOSIA (Reuters) – Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash said yesterday that his administration was willing to clear thousands of land mines peppering his side of a «Green Line» that has divided the island for nearly three decades. It was the latest bid by Denktash to boost confidence after UN-backed peace talks with Greek Cypriots fell apart in March. The veteran leader was widely blamed for the collapse of the peace process ahead of the island’s entry into the EU next year. «We have given notice in a letter sent today to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that Turkish-Cypriot military officials are prepared to meet to discuss the clearing of mines in Nicosia and surrounding regions,» Denktash said in a statement. [Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos hailed what he called Denktash’s acceptance of his appeal for the mine clearing. The Cypriot government has repeatedly made the request, most recently two months ago, the Athens News Agency reported from Nicosia.] The UN office in Nicosia said yesterday that 48 minefields are strewn within the buffer zone, and experts say further mines can be found nearly a half-kilometer deep on each side. Denktash said clearing the anti-personnel and anti-tank mines would improve security for Cypriots crossing the UN-patrolled Green Line bisecting the island since border posts were opened by his administration in April. Hundreds of thousands of Cypriots have since ventured to places off limits since 1974, when Turkey invaded the north in response to a Greek-Cypriot coup aimed at union with Greece. Turkey still keeps some 30,000 troops in the north and is the only country to recognize Denktash’s administration. The rest of the international community considers the Greek-Cypriot government in the south the sole legitimate authority. «This is an important military confidence-building measure… and will be an additional effort to help reach a comprehensive settlement,» Denktash said of the mine initiative. The UN and European Union have welcomed Denktash’s efforts to improve confidence since March, but insist the measures are no substitute for a final settlement based on a UN blueprint.