The discussion for the reopening of checkpoints will be anything but an easy feat, as in addition to the role played by the epidemiological situation, the matter is inevitably being politicized in view of ‘elections’ set to take place in the north, but also in light of the UNSG’s report expected around the end of June.
Postponement seems likely
As reported by Kathimerini’s financial weekly last Wednesday, the dates proposed by the President of the Republic to the Turkish Cypriot leader involved a partial resumption of the operation of crossings for specific groups on June 8, before all groups are allowed to cross on June 15. But latest information points toward June 8 being pushed backward.
Scientific circles noted that Monday’s meeting of the bicommunal Technical Committee on Health was marked by a particularly positive climate among experts. Members of the Republic’s health advisory committee presented a 25-page document outlining all details concerning the development and management of the coronavirus situation, as well as epidemiological data. The Turkish Cypriot side noted it was in the process of drafting a similar document, to be handed over to the Greek Cypriot side.
There wasn’t any hesitation when the member of the Turkish Cypriot group of experts and ‘MP’ of Kudret Ozersay’s party noted that the final decision on checkpoints will be taken by the ‘cabinet’, in a way bypassing the Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci from the whole process.
It must be noted that airports in the north will open on July 1, with Turkish Cypriot experts raising the possibility that crossings may be reopened around the same time.
Already, diplomatic sources are expressing concern over flights to and from Turkey, given that the number of cases in the country remains unclear, with some claiming that Ankara is attempting to conceal the true scale of its outbreak for economic reasons.
This scenario is also a source of concern for Nicosia, which is worried that reopening checkpoints may lead to a surge in coronavirus cases. But during the meeting between experts from both sides on Monday, the Turkish Cypriot side questioned why Germany, which is still struggling with high numbers of cases, was placed in Category A in the Republic’s plan for the resumption of flights.
Diplomatic circles estimate that the reopening of crossings has emerged into a power struggle game between political figures in view of upcoming ‘elections’ in the north. They claim that Ozersay and Tatar want to postpone the entire process so that it will not appear that Mustafa Akinci has the upper hand on the matter, scoring him political points.
But the question remains whether this pre-election game will be maintained in view of the difficult financial situation that the north is in, and which imposes the need for the reopening of crossings, political sources note.
It is no coincidence that the decision for the closure of checkpoints has brought tension in the relationship between the two leaders. Likewise, it’s no coincidence that Akinci reported the Republic of Cyprus for unilaterally deciding to shut crossings, sending letters to the UN Secretary General and the President of the European Commission.
Given the reaction of UNFICYP then, which through an announcement expressed its concern for the “disruption this decision is causing to residents of both sides,” but also given its letter to Antonio Guterres, who called on the two leaders – once the situation allows – to agree on arrangements for the reopening of crossing points, concern spiked among the Greek Cypriot side that if it did not quickly announce the reopening of checkpoints, it would result in a negative reference in Guterres’ report.
For this reason, the Foreign Ministry moved to hold meetings with the ambassadors of the five permanent member states, to inform them of the Republic’s intentions and to prevent any unpleasant developments.
The latest resolution, after all, had enough background to cause tension and concern in the Foreign Ministry. It was the infamous paragraph in last January's resolution that sent the message of normalization of the status quo, gradually moving from "illegal" to "unrecognized." The text addressed the issue of direct contact between the two sides on all issues without the presence of the United Nations. The paragraph may have been deleted, but the subject matter does not appear to be missing. That is why the Greek Cypriot side wants to pass on the message that it has taken initiatives toward the opening of checkpoints and is ready to do so.