UN hopes Greek-Cypriot de-mining move will be matched soon by Turks

NICOSIA – As work began on clearing Greek-Cypriot mines from the UN-patrolled buffer zone across Cyprus, a UN spokesman said yesterday that he was optimistic the move would soon be matched by Turkey. «We believe that our discussions on de-mining with our political and military interlocutors in the north are moving in the right direction,» UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) spokesman Brian Kelly told AFP. «We’re hopeful that it won’t be long before we see a similar de-mining ceremony in one of their minefields,» he said. Yesterday marked the official start of a 2.5-million-euro European Commission-funded project to remove around 2,300 anti-personnel and anti-tank mines from eight of the 11 Greek-Cypriot minefields in the buffer zone. Two mines were destroyed in controlled explosions to launch the project during a ceremony at a Greek-Cypriot minefield near the disused Nicosia airport that acts as UNFICYP headquarters on the island. “Every mine removed leaves a space for a stepping stone to mark the path of peace and reconciliation… every destroyed mine is a step forward to the road of normalization,» UNFICYP Chief of Mission Zbigniew Wlosowicz said. Yesterday’s ceremony was the culmination of drawn-out talks with the island’s Greek-Cypriot government following a January 2002 offer to unilaterally clear National Guard minefields from the buffer zone. UN officials said the Turkish side had given a «verbal commitment» to clear an estimated 27 Turkish minefields in the buffer zone but that no agreement had yet been signed. The premier of the breakaway Turkish-Cypriot state, Mehmet Ali Talat, said the Turkish military had replied «positively» to UN proposals on de-mining and that an agreement would be signed «very soon,» Greek-Cypriot media reported. Two British firms are carrying out the clearance of the Greek-Cypriot mines under contract to the United Nations. EU officials hope the work will help foster trade and movement across the island. The head of the European Commission’s mission here, Adriaan van der Meer, said de-mining could help EU efforts to end the economic isolation of Turkish Cypriots by allowing more crossing points to be opened along the 180-kilometer (110-mile) ceasefire line that divides the two communities.