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Swiss work towards Cyprus reunification

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 Keystone

Switzerland has sent a team of experts to Cyprus to help with the process of unifying the Greek and Turkish sides of the island.

This content was published on February 24, 2004 - 15:39

They will be advising both sides during negotiations on a United Nations-backed reunification plan, based on the Swiss model of federalism.

The Swiss foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that the team had been sent to Cyprus to support the reunification talks, and expected to complete its mission by the end of March.

UN-sponsored negotiations on reuniting the island restarted last Thursday in a bid to resolve the issue before Cyprus joins the European Union on May 1. The country has been divided since 1974.

The team of experts is being led by diplomat Didier Pfirter, who has been working on finding a peaceful solution to the 30-year conflict since 2000. Pfirter is also legal advisor to Alvaro de Soto, Special Advisor on Cyprus to the UN Secretary-General.

He is supported by two specialists from the Swiss Expert Pool for Civilian Peacebuilding, which forms part of the foreign ministry.

The main task of the Swiss team will be to advise the legal teams in both parts of Cyprus on harmonising more than 30 Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot laws in the areas of constitutional, administrative, economic and public legislation.

The team, which will be based in the capital, Nicosia, will also be providing mediation services.

Caution

Victor-Yves Ghebali, from the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, welcomes the move but adds a note of caution.

“Switzerland has always been considered an honest broker, so in that sense Switzerland can help, but the real problem is whether the parties are willing to arrive at a compromise,” Ghebali told swissinfo.

“Now there is something new since last year, the population from both the north and the south seem to be willing to find a compromise.

"But basically the leaders of the Turkish community in Cyprus, which has a vested interest in keeping the status quo, are not ready to arrive at a fair compromise,” he added.

Swiss model

The UN peace plan is nearly 200 pages long and attempts to balance the demands of the Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

It models the new Cyprus on Switzerland, including plans for a federal government and two equal constituent states.

But Thomas Fleiner at Fribourg University’s Institute for Federalism warns that the Swiss model cannot be fully applied to other countries.

“The most important thing is to use the philosophy which is at the base of the Swiss model,” Fleiner said.

“Fifty-one per cent is not enough for a majority; you should always have a consensus. This allows for a democracy that integrates a large part of the population,” he added.

For Fleiner, states are usually based on the concept of a united population, which is not the case with Cyprus.

“The situation over there is very delicate, because the island is divided into two. Only a few countries can survive such a divide,” Fleiner told swissinfo.

Invasion

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded the north in response to a coup on the island, which was backed by Athens.

The northern third is now occupied by the Turkish Cypriots and the southern two thirds by the Greek Cypriots. Only Turkey officially recognizes the northern part of the country.

But the prospect of joining the EU prompted renewed calls for a settlement and UN- sponsored negotiations began in 2002.

Despite immense international pressure the two sides failed to agree by a March 2003 deadline.

Final bid

For a while it seemed that only the Greek Cypriot sector would join the EU in May 2004, until Cypriot leaders agreed to talks on the UN peace plan earlier this month in an eleventh hour bid to resolve the situation.

They also agreed to let the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, rule on conflicts that could not be settled internally.

The Cypriot president, Tassos Papadopoulos, and Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, have until March 22 to reach an agreement before negotiators from Greece and Turkey step in.

If no agreement has been reached by March 29, Annan will finalize the text and it will be put to a referendum in both parts of the country on April 21.

The negotiations are being hampered by differences over issues including the return of territory, demilitarisation and power sharing in government.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold

Key facts

Cyprus is 9,250 km squared - a quarter of the size of Switzerland.
One third of the country is the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and has about 200,000 inhabitants.
The Greek Cypriot part has 715,000 inhabitants.
The capital, Nicosia, has 199,000 inhabitants and is divided in two by a wall.

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