After numerous false starts, negotiations between the two parties to the decades-old stalemate in Cyprus seem to be moving forward again, this time with the assistance of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Mr. Ban Ki-moon recently made his first official visit to Cyprus. The island nation has been divided into a Greek-speaking south and a Turkish-speaking north since 1974, when a Greek-led coup sought to annex the island to Greece, prompting a Turkish invasion that claimed the top 37% of the island. The north, which calls itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), has only been recognized by Turkey, and has lagged behind the impressive economic development of the south, which enjoys broad international recognition and now represents the island in the European Union. UN peacekeepers patrol the unofficial border between the two sides, and the island is heavily militarized. During his visit, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon visited with leaders from both the Turkish and Greek factions.
Previous talks have been derailed by a number of contentious issues; the most serious recent attempt at unification, in 2004, produced an agreement which was subsequently ratified in a referendum by the north but rejected, under the hard-line presidency of Tassos Papadopoulos, by the south. Papadopoulos has since been replaced by the more moderate Demetris Christofias, but the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Ali Talat, now faces a challenge in upcoming elections from a more hard-line candidate. This has ramped up the pressure for a solution, as has the fact that the ongoing stalemate has dimmed Turkey’s prospects in its own bid for EU accession.
Legal issues relating to the conflict stem originally from the question of whether the 1974 Turkish invasion was justified as a matter of international law. Greek Cypriots argue that the invasion was a clear violation of the UN Charter, which prohibits aggressive war; their argument is supported by the fact that no multilateral body authorized the action. Turkish Cypriots counter that Turkey’s response was justified, as a form of self-defense, by the prospect of the island’s annexation to Greece, and, as a form of humanitarian intervention, by longstanding intercommunal violence directed toward the Turkish-speaking minority. Going forward, both political and legal solutions will be needed to address issues including the division of contested territory, the presence of Turkish forces, reparations for lost property, and power sharing under a proposed federation.
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