UN sweeps for explosives at landmark Cyprus crossing

UN sweeps for explosives at landmark Cyprus crossing

U.N. de-mining experts swept Ledra Street in Nicosia for discarded explosives on Wednesday in an effort to open a crossing point. Turkish Cypriot leader Talat said it will be a symbolic move and the main goal is to find a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus issue.(UPDATED)

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U.N. spokesman Jose Diaz said de-mining teams completed a search for unexploded devices or booby traps that could have been left over from the 1974 Turkey's military intervention to the island. 

The sweep of the 70-meter (230-foot) stretch of no mans land was necessary before work could begin to shore up dilapidated buildings on either side of the pedestrian thoroughfare.

"A six-person mine action team carried out the search with support from UNFICYP (United Nations Force in Cyprus), during which no dangerous items were found," a U.N. statement said.

The clearance, shoring up and other preparations for were expected to last 10 days or more, Diaz said. He said if all goes according to plan, the crossing point in Ledra Street could be open in the "first few days of April".

The street has been split for decades between the Greek Cypriot south and Turkish Cypriot north and its opening has become almost a litmus test for measures to bring the two communities closer and ease the way to reunification talks. Although the wall was torn down in recent years the street remained blocked due to controversy over military patrols in the area.

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The leaders of the Greek and Cypriot communities agreed Friday to open a crossing at Ledra Street as a sign of good will before resuming talks on reunifying the island.

A sticking point appears to have been overcome after the Turkish army agreed to keep patrolling soldiers out of sight of the crossing point, officials close to the discussions told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. The Greek Cypriot National Guard will also pull its soldiers back. 

PEACE SOLUTION EFFORTS
Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat said on Wednesday he got "the impression" from his meeting with Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Chirstofias that "the Greek Cypriot side wanted a solution."

"But that does not mean we will certainly reach an agreement," Talat told a televised interview on Wednesday. "We decided on how to proceed with the negotiations and to put the negotiations on their right track," the official Anatolian Agency quoted him as saying.

Demetris Christofias election victory in February could give a new impetus for the resumption of peace process, which is stalled since 2004 when the Greek Cypriots rejected U.N. blueprint in the referendum.

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"We need to guarantee our political equality," Talat said. Talat also said UN envoy to Cyprus Michael Moeller projected April 2 for the opening of Ledra gate.

"Opening the Ledra gate is a symbolic move. Our main goal is to find a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus issue."

Talat and Christofias' envoys met on Wednesday and agreed to set up a number working groups and committees in an initial attempt to lead the way for substantial talks to reunify the island.

Turkish Cypriot representative for EU & UN talks Ozdil Nami and Greek Cypriot envoy George Iacovou met Wednesday at the buffer zone and reached an accord to set up six working groups and seven technical committees in the shortest possible time.

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TURKISH TROOPS IN THE ISLAND
Turkish army chief Gen. Yasar Buyukanit is in Nicosia for an official visit, which drew reaction from the Greek Cypriots.

Talat said during his meeting with Buyukanit on Wednesday Turkish troops deployed in the island have been fulfilling their duties within the framework of international agreements on Cyprus and Turkish troops would continue to fulfill their duties till a fair and lasting peace is ensured."

Talat said Turkish Armed Forces and Turkish Cypriot Peace Forces have been working to prevent any tension in the island or any security threat against Turkish Cypriots. "Our final goal is fair and lasting peace, and Turkish government and Armed Forces are supporting us," he added.

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Buyukanit said the Greek Cypriot administration should understand how a lasting and fair peace can be ensured. Buyukanit also said Turkish troops have been in Cyprus for peace and security since 1974.

"Turkish soldiers are here for Turkish Cypriots, and for security. It has ensured this confidence and will continue to do so," he said.

Christofias told reporters he expected nothing from Buyukanit’s presence in Cyprus, when asked whether the opening of Ledra Street would be clarified during the visit of Buyukanit. “I do not expect anything from Buyukanit. I am sad over his visit here," he said, Greek Cypriot Famagusta Gazette daily reported on Wednesday.

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