‘Unity in Cyprus a chance for peace’: Bildt

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt declared on Friday that the negotiations on reunification in Cyprus brokered by the UN offer an unprecedented chance for peace in the region as a whole.

“We have a unique window of opportunity for settling the Cyprus issue. Twenty years after the fall of the wall in Berlin we still have a divided capital in Europe and that should not be acceptable to anyone,” Bildt told reporters.

“The efforts underway in order to overcome this, is of course of profound importance for Cyprus – but has European and global significance.”

Cyprus President Demetris Christofias, a Greek Cypriot, and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, launched negotiations last September that were heralded by the international community as the best chance for peace.

Bildt said Europe is banking on a solution to bring a “positive dynamic” to the region as failure would have a negative knock-on effect for the EU and NATO.

Sweden takes over the EU presidency in July and one of its main tasks will be to review Turkey’s accession progress. Factored into this progress report will be the state of play on the Cyprus talks and Turkey’s obligation – under the 2004 Ankara protocol – to allow Cypriot aircraft and vessels into its ports.

“The review of the Ankara protocol is one of the things that is going to happen under the Swedish presidency and there is an obligation to do that towards the end of the year.”

However Bildt hopes that there will be a “different political situation” on Cyprus when that deadline looms. The foreign minister said Turkey’s accession is “very important” for the European Union but that any accession process is “dependent on fulfilling the criteria” of the bloc.

The rival Cypriot leaders resumed UN-brokered peace talks on Tuesday after hardline nationalists won parliamentary elections in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north, raising fears for the negotiations.

A UN-backed reunification plan in 2004 was scrapped after being rejected by Greek Cypriots but backed by Turkish Cypriots. Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded the northern third in response to an Athens-engineered Greek Cypriot coup to unite it with Greece.

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Turkey navy forces back Italian drillship: Cyprus

Five Turkish warships threatened to engage an Italian drillship Friday and forced it to turn back after it tried to break a two-week blockade off Cyprus, Cypriot officials said.

Turkey navy forces back Italian drillship: Cyprus
Eni chief Claudio Descalzi. File photo: AFP

The drillship from Italy's energy giant Eni has been halted in the island's politically sensitive waters since February 9th when Turkish warships stopped it from heading to explore in a contentious area, claiming they were conducting manoeuvres.

Government spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos told the Cyprus News Agency that as the rig tried to make progress again Friday “it was blocked by five Turkish warships, and after threats to use force and engage with the drillship…it was forced to turn back”.

Eni chief Claudio Descalzi played down the two-week standoff, telling journalists in Italy that his company would not abandon its exploration off Cyprus but await a diplomatic solution to start operations.

“We are used to the possibility of disputes. We didn't leave Libya or other countries where there had been complex situations,” he said.

“This is the last of my worries. We are completely calm,” said the Eni chief executive.

“It is very probable that in the next few days we will have to move” the ship to another country as originally planned, Descalzi said.

“And then we will return (to Cyprus) to await a solution from international diplomacy.”

However, Cypriot Energy Minister George Lakkotrypis said that diplomatic efforts, notably by the European Union, had so far failed to break the standoff.

“We left room for diplomacy, hoping that a solution could be found… Today we made one last effort… but that was not possible because of Turkey's stance,” he told the private television station Sigma.

The drillship has now headed to the Cypriot port of Limassol and will likely spend several days there before sailing to fulfil contractual obligations in Morocco, Lakkotrypis told the Cyprus News Agency.

On Wednesday, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, the Greek Cypriot leader, said Nicosia would continue its energy exploration regardless of Turkish threats.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned foreign energy companies not to “overstep the mark” in disputed waters off the coast of the divided island.

Ankara has been stringent in defending the claims of Turkish Cypriots for a share of energy resources, despite Greek Cypriot assurances that they would benefit both communities.

The standoff over energy resources risks further complicating stalled efforts to reunify Cyprus following the collapse of UN-brokered talks last year.

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