Cypriots to remove barricades in landmark deal

22/03/2008 - 14:31

By Michele Kambas and Simon Bahceli

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Rival sides on divided Cyprus werepreparing to dismantle a poignant symbol of half a century ofdivision in a move diplomats hope will improve the climate fornew peace talks.

Greek and Turkish Cypriot authorities said they would startwork from Monday, removing a barrier from the main commercialdistrict of Nicosia that has split the United Nations-patrolledmedieval city into two since 1958.

"If everything goes to plan we could expect the road toreopen March 31, or possibly April 2 or 3," Greek Cypriot townmayor Eleni Mavrou told Reuters.

On the northern side, Turkish Cypriot mayor CemalBulutoglulari said: "As far as we are concerned we are ready."

Removal of the barricade on Ledra Street is part of alandmark deal brokered on Friday between Greek Cypriot leaderDemetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet AliTalat to resume peace negotiations within three months.

It was their first meeting since Christofias was elected tothe Cypriot presidency last month on a pledge of pushing forreunification. Peace talks stalled in 2004 when Greek Cypriotsrejected a U.N. settlement blueprint accepted by TurkishCypriots.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troopsinvaded in response to a brief coup carried out byGreek-Cypriot extremists at the urging of the military thenruling Greece. The island is represented in the European Unionby its Greek Cypriots, who can block Turkey's own hopes ofjoining the bloc for as long as a peace deal is elusive.

Nicosia, a city of about 250,000, has long suffered underpartition. Its bustling Greek and Turkish Cypriot commercialsectors are separated by a no-man's-land of booby traps, emptyshops and abandoned homes.

Ledra Street, which runs across the dividing line, is nowguarded by soldiers on opposing sides, separated by an 80-metrebuffer zone of decaying buildings overgrown with weeds andoverrun by rats.

The European Commission has allocated 100,000 euros to openthe crossing. United Nations land mine removal teams wereexpected in the area from Monday.

(Editing by Giles Elgood)

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