NEWS

Cypriots to appeal to international donors for billions of dollars in aid to fund divided island’s reunification

BRUSSELS – Cypriots ask international donors this week to dig deep into their pockets to help fund the divided island’s possible reunion, even as a UN-brokered peace plan hangs in the balance. The European Union, keen to see a united island join the bloc on May 1, hosts a preparatory donors conference in Brussels today to secure funding from its members, the world’s richest nations and institutions, such as the World Bank. Turkish Cypriots say they want almost $4 billion over five years – roughly half of what was pledged for three years at last month’s donors conference on Afghanistan, which has a population of more than 20 million and is more than 20 times the size of Cyprus. «We will be asking for $3.8 billion. International financial assistance is very important for sustaining peace on the island,» Erhan Ercin, the Turkish-Cypriot EU coordinator who will be at the conference with Turkish-Cypriot «Prime Minister» Mehmet Ali Talat, told Reuters. Greek Cypriots, who have estimated that the total cost of stitching the island together after 30 years of partition could top $20 billion, have yet to come up with their request. The money will flow only if both communities vote in favor of the UN plan that calls for a loose federation of two largely self-governing states. Today’s conference is not expected to lead to firm pledges, focusing on assessing the needs and lining up potential donors, but the United States said it would make a «substantial commitment» and urged others to follow suit. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on Tuesday Secretary of State Colin Powell planned a round of phone calls calling for large financial contributions. Most of the funds are expected to pour into the poor north, where the reunification plan already enjoys solid support. But the plan’s backers hope financial pledges could also help soothe Greek-Cypriot fears that their thriving tourist sector could end up saddled with reunification costs. «If people see there are concrete financial commitments, perhaps they will be more ready to support the plan,» said an official in Ankara, which will be represented by Deputy Prime Minister Abdullatif Sener at the talks. Commentators in Nicosia are skeptical that the Greek Cypriots could be swayed by pledges of aid, given their disappointment with the outcome of talks in Switzerland. (Additional reporting by Gareth Jones in Ankara)