“People are stepping in where the politicians are failing in Cyprus”. This was the view of London Conservative MEP Marina Yannakoudakis after a three-day mission to the divided island as a member of the European Parliament’s High-Level Contact Group for Relations with the Turkish Cypriot Community.

Marina held meetings with leaders from both sides of the Green Line including Republic of Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dr. Dervi? Ero?lu. She also met with Alexander Downer, Special Adviser of the UN Secretary General on Cyprus as well as Greek and Turkish Cypriot political parties and trades unions. Marina held a particularly poignant meeting with the Committee for Missing Persons in Cyprus who thanked Marina for raising awareness of the fate of those missing in the European Parliament.

There was a great deal of pessimism about the future of the peace negotiations between the two sides. While Greek and Turkish Cypriots continue to talk, issues such as exploration for natural gas in waters off Cyprus have slowed progress.

“I do not believe that drilling should be halted, nor should it be used as an excuse to apply the brakes to the peace process. If natural gas were to be found it would benefit all communities in Cyprus,” said Marina.

Marina hopes that the two sides can make progress at the talks on Long Island at the end of October.

While progress on a political settlement may have slowed, Marina saw many examples of how the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities are working well together. At a visit to the Committee for Missing Persons in Cyprus, which has long been a model of successful cooperation between the two communities, one of the families of the missing whom Marina met told her: “Turkish and Greek Cypriots can live together, it`s the interference of Turkey that has causes the problem.”

Marina saw further evidence bi-communal co-operation at a crisis centre which deals with fires, earthquakes and other natural disasters. She also met with the crime and criminal matters committee which is also made up of Turkish and Greek Cypriots. Bi-communal education was the focus of Marina”s visit to the English school in Nicosia where Turkish and Greek Cypriots study side by side.

There are still concerns, however, that EU aid is not getting through to the northern part of Cyprus. Marina was told about a EUR 27 million which was cancelled by the Turkish Cypriot authorities due to worries about its location near military base. Marina also met with journalists who raised concerns about the freedom of the press was questioned. The editor of the newspaper Afrika told Marina how he had received threats and even been shot at. Marina also raised the issue of the criminalisation of homosexuality in the north of Cyprus (see separate press release at http://www.marinayannakoudakis.com/news.php)

Summing up her visit, Marina said: “There is a long way to go, but, as long the two sides keep talking there”s hope. However politicians need to take a leaf out of the book of the two communities who are already working together. Projects such as the Committee for Missing Persons and the Crisis Management Committee show how well Greek and Turkish Cypriots can work together. Nevertheless, time is running out and the losers will be the Turkish Cypriots. I worry that the Turkish Cypriots will suffer as the minority in their own country not because of the Greek Cypriots but because of the Turkish occupying forces.”

MEPs participating in the High-Level Contact Groups visit to Cyprus were Marina Yannakoudakis (UK), Françoise Grossetête (France), Franziska Keller (Germany), Willy Meyer Pleite (Spain), Libor Rouček (Czech Republic) and Angelika Werthmann (Austria).

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