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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Ledra crossing backfire

Today’s article from the Cyprus Weekly raises similar points that have been made previously on this site concerning the Ledra issue.

Turkish actions at Ledra Street crossing backfire
by Menelaos Hadjicostis

Turkish army muscle-flexing on the ceasefire line dissecting divided Ledra Street has backfired as construction of a footbridge has flustered the United Nations and earned disapproval from ordinary Turkish Cypriots.

UN dissent over works designed to conceal a heavy Turkish military presence on the ceasefire line was encoded in a Security Council resolution extending the UN peacekeeping force's mandate for another six months.

In the preamble to resolution 1642, adopted unanimously on Wednesday, the Security Council expresses "concern that… differences have arisen over construction activity related to the proposed additional crossing point at Ledra Street".

The UN decision-making body also urged both sides to work with UNFICYP for a mutually acceptable arrangement that would finally open the busy thoroughfare to pedestrian traffic from both sides of the divide to the delight of shopkeepers.

The council encouraged the opening of additional crossing points to the existing five that saw over nine million crossings since travel restrictions were eased in April, 2003.

Nicosia welcomed the formal expression of concern over Turkish machinations at Ledra, amid news of a strenuous effort to reword the resolution and absolve Ankara and its army commanders on the ground in the occupied north.

President Tassos Papadopoulos disclosed that some unnamed nations attempted to excise any references to "construction" so that the controversial footbridge and adjoining works are not made to appear as the root of the Ledra Street problem.

"Great efforts were made to keep the work ‘construction'

of the bridge in the text. Some countries wanted to delete the clear reference to occupation army construction," Papadopoulos told reporters before flying to Brussels for an EU summit yesterday.

Papadopoulos said neither does the resolution's wording put Nicosia on an equal footing with the Turkish side over blame for the Ledra Street impasse.

"The resolution calls on both sides to make efforts to solve the problem that has arisen at Ledra Street. The resolution does not equate both sides in terms of responsibility for the Ledra Street deadlock," said Papadopoulos.

Although couched in more diplomatic language, resolution 1642 was an extension of a strongly-worded UNFICYP statement rebuking the Turkish side for unilateral action that ultimately scuttled plans to open what has long been seen as one of the most potent symbols of the island's division.

Calling on construction at Ledra Street to cease, UNFICYP said the absence of mutual agreement to open the street neither sanctions, nor gives license to either side for unilateral action.

"…the Turkish Cypriot side opted to act pre-emptively to execute its project, and persists in acting unilaterally toward an objective that, by definition, must be bilateral.

"UNFICYP must point out that, regrettably, unilateral initiatives are incompatible with the spirit of confidence-building measures that have driven the carefully coordinated effort since April 2003 to promote and ensure the orderly opening of crossing points on the island."

Nicosia had argued that the footbridge breached a ceasefire agreement reached at the end of hostilities following the 1974 Turkish invasion by encroaching on the UN-controlled buffer zone.

UNFICYP disputed this, but the Turkish side's intentions were transparent. For the illegal regime, pressing on with construction intended to discredit Nicosia's wish to open Ledra and again portray Papadopoulos as the recalcitrant spoiler, while notching up more political capital and earning international plaudits.

The only hitch was the Turkish army's insistence – as Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat readily admitted – to build a footbridge over once-thriving Ermou Street that is now the main military thoroughfare connecting guard posts.

Thus, Turkish army commanders would consolidate their presence in and around Ledra while simultaneously sending the message that the politics of reconciliation would never supercede tactical considerations.

Moreover, the sight of gun-toting Turkish troops and military vehicles crossing underneath pedestrians traversing the bridge would have a strong psychological impact, impressing in the minds of civilians the might of a ubiquitous occupation army the protector of the illegal regime.

Papadopoulos offered another explanation for the bridge – a clear attempt at a military advance inside the buffer zone to half of the entire 180km length of the no-man's land.

Papadopoulos also offered the manning of a guard post recently built deep inside the buffer zone near Louroudjina as further proof of a calculated advance.

Under increasing pressure, Turkish Cypriot officials thumbed their nose with defiant bluster and bravado culminating with Talat's outburst: "We are not obliged to anyone to account for what happens within the boundaries of the TRNC".

Talat laughed off any suggestions at either a pause in construction or bringing down the bridge altogether.

That prompted a sharp riposte from Nicosia.

"Statements from the other side show that they continue to act in an one-sided and arrogant fashion and are not demonstrate any disposition to change their policy," said Government Spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides.

But pressure on Talat and crew has also come from within, with Turkish Cypriot merchants voicing their opposition to the bridge they said would hamper the unimpeded flow of people and money.

Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Merchants and Craftsmen Chairman Hurrem Tulga warned members would keep their shops closed today to protest against the bridge he said is unnecessary and should be removed.

Tulga said merchants on the Turkish-held end of Ledra have suffered worst in the pocket book because pedestrian traffic there has dried up.

He scolded the illegal regime, saying those purporting to want an end to Turkish Cypriot isolation are themselves causing isolation at the proposed Ledra Street crossing.

Despite the angry rhetoric, Turkish Cypriot officials may now be buckling and sitting up to listen.

Turkish Cypriot daily Halkin Sesi quoted occupied Nicosia mayor Kutlay Erk as admitting that the Turkish side had in its hands a government proposal on opening Ledra in a mutually acceptable way.

The thrust of the government proposals is a general military pull-back from the area to ease pedestrian traffic.

Erk said the Turkish side was ready for negotiations on the proposal that could start under UN auspices.

Cyprus Weekly, 16 - 23 December 2005

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