Leading Article: Seeking a settlement on northern Cyprus

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The Independent Online
IT IS surprising that the Queen does not encounter more hostile demonstrations when she travels. She represents a country that was relatively enlightened as a colonial power, but still has enough blots on its historical copybook to legitimise demonstrations in many or most of the places she visits.

In Cyprus, however, the small demonstrations against her have not really been about history. The hanging of nine Eoka guerrillas in 1955 provides an excuse. Memories of the liberation struggle, which aimed at union with Greece, have been summoned up to make a contemporary point. Many Greek Cypriots feel that Britain has failed to use its influence to end the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus. The Queen's arrival with Commonwealth leaders is a spotlit chance to publicise the accusation.

Is it justified? Cyprus is a tiny island in a strategically important position. British governments have tended to regard the British bases there as more important than the wishes of the Cypriot people. But the Turkish invasion in 1974 was not Britain's fault. Illegal though it was, it came after an attempted Greek coup that would have meant union with Greece and even worse treatment for the Turkish minority, which already had plenty to complain about.

Negotiations have continued intermittently ever since. Britain and the United Nations have been trying to broker a settlement between the two communities. Greek Cypriots argue that the key lies with Turkey, which supports the Turkish Cypriot regime, so Britain should twist Turkey's arm. This is unrealistic. The present Turkish government would probably accept a deal made by the islanders. In any case, for Britain and Nato, Turkey is a more important strategic ally and trading partner than Greece.

Britain could have done more for the Cypriots, but it tries from time to time. A meeting planned for today between the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, and leaders of both communities may push things forward. But if the Greek Cypriots allow themselves to be infected by the nationalism of the new Greek government, they will make Turks even less eager for a settlement.

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