UN: Cypriot fire-diplomacy an example of ending division

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Trust among Cypriots on the divided island is at a low point, but their willingness to help each other in the recent wildfire in the Turkish-held north should set the example, said a senior United Nations diplomat Monday.

UN chief of mission Colin Stewart held a meeting with President Nicos Anastasiades on Monday, days after Greek Cypriots helped Turkish Cypriot battle a huge blaze in Kantara.

“I thanked him for the support of the Greek Cypriots for the terrible fire that had been raging in the north over a few days last week,” Stewart said afterwards.

“It illustrates a fundamental point about this island, and that is the solidarity amongst Cypriots.

“When the time came, there was unhesitating and unquestioned assistance from Greek Cypriots for Turkish Cypriots who were in this difficult situation, and I think this is a very positive thing,” he added.

The senior UN official is scheduled to meet Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar later Monday as he consults Cypriot leaders on the UN peacekeeping mandate up for its six-monthly renewal before the Security Council.

There have been no UN-sponsored peace talks to resolve the island’s division since a Cyprus conference collapsed in Switzerland in July 2017.

Relations between the two sides have hardened over the interim, and Stewart said trust-building was a priority.

He said there is a need to “build trust between the people as a foundation for finding some way to move forward on the political process”.

Stewart said he discussed with Anastasiades “how trust is at a low point and things seem to be going in the wrong direction”.

“Therefore, the need for doing whatever we can to rebuild that trust without which it will be very difficult to move forward on the political process.”

The Turkish side re-opening the fenced-off resort of Varosha, which had been a ‘ghost town’ since 1974, has riled the Greek Cypriot side with UN calls to return it to the status quo.

Stewart said Varosha would be included in the UN Secretary General’s report to the Security Council.

“Obviously, it is up to the Security Council to decide how to react, but that is one of our jobs, to report objectively and in detail on all the developments that happen on the ground in the last six months.

“I think one of the fundamental problems facing us, and Mr Anastasiades agreed on this, is the general lack of trust on both sides.

“This is something we agreed to focus our efforts on; otherwise, it is going to be difficult to find a path forward for a political settlement.”

Aircraft from both sides of Cyprus, the British military and Israeli personnel responded to calls for help to fight the fire, which began Tuesday in the Kantara area of the Kyrenia mountain range.

Turkish Cypriot authorities said more than 6,500 acres had been burned.

The United Nations peacekeeping force coordinated the firefighting response.