NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in ethnically split Cyprus said Monday that Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots have reached an “understanding” over a contentious road inside a U.N.-controlled buffer zone whose construction had stirred up tensions not seen in years.
U.N. envoy Colin Stewart said a “few modalities” were still being discussed, although the framework of the deal would take effect right away.
Cyprus government officials said the deal meets the Turkish Cypriot demand for construction of the road linking the village of Arsos, in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north, with the mixed Greek Cypriot-Turkish Cypriot village of Pyla, inside the buffer zone and abutting the Greek Cypriot south, where the island’s internationally recognized government is seated.
But Turkish military guard posts inside the buffer zone will be removed, there will be no Turkish or Turkish Cypriot military or police presence permitted there and the U.N.’s jurisdiction of the area will be affirmed and uncontested.
This assuages Greek Cypriot concerns that road is intended for military purposes at a sensitive spot along the buffer zone that spans 180 kilometers (120 miles).
The U.N. will man a checkpoint along the newly built road to ensure that only Turkish Cypriots and European Union nationals can gain entry into the south, although Greek Cypriots won’t be able to cross northward from there.
The Cypriot government officials said that equally significant is that the entire area, which has been vacant for 49 years, is now designated for development — construction of homes, shops and businesses operating under EU law — for the benefit of both communities.
The officials were speaking on condition of anonymity because they’re not permitted to discuss the details of the deal publicly,
Given a six-year stalemate in talks to resolve the country’s nearly half-century division, the deal is seen as a minor breakthrough in overall efforts to get the ball rolling again on peace negotiations.
Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and continues to station more than 35,000 troops in the north.
Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, but only the south enjoys full benefits.
In August, angry Turkish Cypriots punched and kicked a group of U.N. peacekeepers who obstructed crews working on the road that would circumvent a checkpoint on the northern fringe of a British military base, one of two bases that the U.K. retained after Cyprus gained independence from British colonial rule in 1960.
The violence was strongly condemned internationally, while Turkey accused the U.N. of losing its neutrality in Cyprus.