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Greek Cyprus watches Kosovo’s move

38b6af91827c63b93f199df5746d82cc.jpgNow the Serbian presidential election is over, the unilateral independence of Kosovo is likely to be declared within a matter of weeks. It may be a tiny, remote, poor and mountainous land, but the consequences of the move will spread far beyond its Balkan borders.

Although the great majority of Serbs remain strenuously opposed, Kosovo’s independence will swiftly be recognised by the US, followed by leading members of the European Union, including the UK, France and Germany. It will be a de facto recognition, not a de jure one. Russia is blocking any United Nations resolution, both out of loyalty to Serbia and from a more fundamental objection to the principle of self-determination.

Several EU member states also remain deeply hesitant, fearful of the precedent set by allowing an ethnic minority to declare independence without winning agreement from the country it is leaving. Spain is one such, fearing the encouragement it will give to Basque secessionists. Slovakia is another, Romania the third. They will delay any recognition as long as possible.

Of all the EU members, however, the most hostile is the republic of Cyprus. Speaking in Helsinki last week, Erato Markoulli, the Greek Cypriot foreign minister, said her country “cannot and will not recognise a unilateral declaration of independence. This is an issue of principle, of respect for international law, but also an issue of concern that it will create a precedent in international relations.”

Ms Markoulli denied the stance had anything to do with northern Cyprus, the Turkish-ruled part of the island whose independence has been recognised only by Turkey. Yet that is clearly the most threatening precedent. If Kosovo wins recognition from the US and UK, how long will they refuse to do the same for the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus ?

Many EU members now regret allowing Cyprus to join without resolving its internal division. The Greek Cypriots rejected Kofi Annan’s UN plan for unification, after the Turkish Cypriots had voted heavily in favour in 2004. Ever since, Cyprus has used its membership to delay or disrupt every attempt at opening links to the northern enclave.

Yet, in a curious way, the Kosovo move could be just the shock needed to get the two sides back together. It will come at much the same time as a critical presidential election in Cyprus – the two rounds are on February 17 and 21 – that is seen as a potential watershed for UN negotiations to be launched, or for the divided island to be partitioned for good.

Tassos Papadopoulos, the incumbent president, who led the campaign against the Annan plan, could be defeated in a run-off against his principal challenger, Demetris Christofias, leader of Akel, the Communist party. Mr Christofias also voted No to the Annan plan, but he is committed to seeking a new deal. So is Yiannakis Cassoulides, the conservative former foreign minister, who is running third. The race is too close to call.

The northern Cypriots are holding their breath. “2008 may be the last opportunity for an international settlement,” says Turgay Avci, foreign minister of the Turkish Cypriot administration. “For so many months we have been told to wait for the elections, because the leadership may change. I don’t think it will make a big difference. What we expect is that whoever wins the election will come to the table for a comprehensive solution.”

Among Greek Cypriots, however, Mr Papadopoulos is seen as the person least likely to make any move. He has the support of nationalists and the Greek Orthodox church in Cyprus, but his truculent negotiating style in the EU has worried those Cypriots who wish to be accepted as “full Europeans”.

“People are worried that no good initiatives have come from Tassos,” says one Greek Cypriot academic. “He is always blocking and blustering. It does not give them any pleasure to be seen as always the awkward customers.”

That does not give Mr Avci much reassurance. “We are isolated,” he says. “We have no free trade. There are no direct flights. There are no cultural or educational openings in the EU. As long as they treat Greek Cyprus as the only power in Cyprus, there will be no solution.”

But at least he will be watching what happens to Kosovo “very quietly, and very closely”.

Source du texte : FINANCIAL TIMES

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