Balkan tensions find new echo in a divided Cyprus

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THE CYPRUS question is threatening to push Greece and Turkey towards renewed confrontation, jeopardising international efforts to calm tensions in the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean.

Recent steps taken by the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaderships, backed by their allies in Athens and Ankara, have drawn attention to a conflict that had long seemed buried under a heap of unheeded UN resolutions.

The latest trouble started on 28 August, when the assembly of the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus voted to co-ordinate the its defence and foreign policies with those of Turkey.

The measure quickly won the approval of Turkey's new Foreign Minister, Mumtaz Soysal, although he stressed that Turkey did not intend to absorb the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state.

Greece denounced the Turkish Cypriot initiative as evidence that they were intent on seceding once and for all from Cyprus.

'The decision reveals the dishonest policy of the Turkish side, which does not accept a federation but aims at promoting secessionist solutions,' said Greece's Deputy Foreign Minister for European Affairs, Yannos Kranidiotis.

The Turkish Cypriots justified their action on the grounds that Greece had previously agreed with the Greek Cypriot government in southern Cyprus to form a common defence policy. This agreement was followed by intensified Greek efforts to persuade the European Union to admit Cyprus as a full member.

Most EU countries have given a cool response to Cyprus's request for admission, first made in 1990, since they do not wish to turn the Cyprus conflict into an internal EU matter. But Turkish Cypriot leaders cited their rivals' drive for EU entry as one reason for refusing to continue UN-sponsored talks on 'confidence-building measures', that were designed to lead to an overall settlement.

The Turkish Cypriot argument is that, by applying for EU membership on behalf of the whole island, the Greek Cypriots are challenging the Turkish Cypriots' sovereignty. However, no country except Turkey has recognised the Turkish Cypriot state since it proclaimed its existence in 1983.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish forces invaded the north of the island to end a Greek-backed coup d'etat, that was intended to bring about Cyprus's union with Greece. Since the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1990 and 1991, the Greek-Turkish confrontation over Cyprus has begun to merge with the two countries' rivalries in the Balkans.

Greece's sympathy with Serbia has been matched by Turkish support for the Bosnian Muslims, while Greek hostility to Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has been matched by an increasingly close Turkish relationship with those two countries. Greece and Turkey have also stepped up a war of words over whether Greece has the right to extend its territorial waters to a twelve-mile limit, six miles more than the current limit.

In Cyprus, UN mediation efforts have proven so fruitless that the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, suggested reallocating scarce UN resources to tackle disputes elsewhere. Such a step would probably leave Cyprus divided indefinitely, a prospect that the Turks, though not the Greeks, would welcome.