April 30, 1997
On April 19, some 450 Turkish Cypriots crossed for the first time since 1974 to the free areas of the Republic for a pilgrimage to Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque in Larnaca, on the southeastern coast, on the occasion of the Muslim religion festival of Kurban Bayram.
The Hala Sultan Tekke, located on the shore of Larnaca's Salt Lake, was built in memory of Umm Haram, an aunt of prophet Mohammet and is considered one of the holiest Islamic religious places. This visit was offered as a good will gesture on the part of the Cyprus government in the framework of the on-going proximity talks under UN auspices.
The Turkish Cypriot side had promised to reciprocate by allowing Greek Cypriots to visit the Turkish-occupied monastery of Apostolos Andreas, on the island's eastern tip, on Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday, on April 27. Unfortunately the trip was cancelled due to Mr. Denktash's insistence to censor the list of visitors.
UN Spokesman in Cyprus, Waldemar Rokoszewski expressed regret for the outcome adding that "it goes without saying that any form of censorship or interference with the list of names presented, is unacceptable." Needless to say no such censorship was made by the Cyprus government on the list of 450 Turkish Cypriots who visited the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque in Larnaca.
* GOVERNMENT WELCOMES RUSSIAN PROPOSAL
The Government Spokesman Manolis Christophides, said that a Russian proposal could favorably contribute towards efforts for a solution to the protracted Cyprus problem and noted that it contains some useful guidelines. The Russian proposal was put forward on April 29, during a meeting of the UN Security Council permanent members, in New York in the presence of special envoys of the P5 for Cyprus.
Describing the proposal as "positive" and a document through which ideas can be drawn on, Christophides said "since we are still at the preparatory stage it can be used along with other documents," at any stage of the negotiations for a Cyprus solution.
He added the two high level agreements reached between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides, in 1977 and 1979, the Security Council resolutions on Cyprus and a set of ideas proposed by the UN in 1992, are among documents on the negotiating table, as pointed out by the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a letter he had sent to all interested parties last January.
The Russian proposal was also welcomed by Foreign Minister Ioannis Cassoulides, who noted it "outlines the framework through which a solution should be reached." Cassoulides stressed that the Greek Cypriot side would like to see this proposal to be included in the documents already on the negotiating table and noted the statement issued after the New York meeting of the "big five" expressed support to the UN-led preparatory phase and describe the present situation in Cyprus as unacceptable.
Cassoulides noted the UN Security Council permanent members consider "important" the preparatory work expected to lead to face-to-face negotiations between President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash and added the government agrees with this, as it does not want the negotiations to fail.
The Foreign Minister also expressed satisfaction with the fact that the "5" will hold regular meetings, to be briefed on developments and express their views, and reiterated that the UN Chief should coordinate efforts for a solution to the Cyprus question.
* CANADA APPOINTS SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE ON CYPRUS
The Canadian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Lloyd Axworthy, announced on April 18, the appointment of Michael R. Bell as Special Representative of the Minister on Cyprus.
"I believe that the current environment offers a special opportunity to make progress on the Cyprus issue in light of envisaged discussion for an eventual accession of Cyprus to the European Union," Mr. Axworthy said.
The Canadian Foreign Minister added that the appointment is aimed at demonstrating the keen interest that Canada continues to have for the future of Cyprus and its commitment to support the UN peace effort.
* NICOSIA'S VENETIAN WALL RENOVATION
Nicosia's ancient Venetian walls which have stood guard for centuries against foreign invaders, are being restored to their original glory to go on standing guard for centuries to come.
The Antiquities Department, with funding from the UN is continuing its restoration of the stone wall surrounding the capital originally built by the Venetians in 1570.
The walls were constructed to defend against Ottoman invaders when Venice was a powerful city-state and Cyprus was one of their important possessions. These fortifications are built in a circular plan with a circumference of 4.8 kilometers.
Mr. Sophocles Hadjisavvas, an official of the Department of Antiquities told the press that the restoration of the walls was always a priority for the Municipality which began the restoration work in 1995 at a cost of 80 thousand Cyprus pounds (160,000 US dollars). The work had to stop when the money ran out, but after the UN High Commission for Refugees agreed to inject the sum of 380 thousand Cyprus pounds in restoration efforts, work recommenced on the walls in both the occupied and free parts of Nicosia.
Mr. Hadjisavvas said that the UN will make the necessary arrangements with the Turkish Cypriot side for work to continue in the occupied areas. Approximately half the wall surrounding the old part of the city is situated in Turkish-occupied areas.
Mr. Hadjisavvas stressed that if the Antiquities Department is prevented from supervising restoration work in the Turkish-occupied part of Nicosia, the Department will ask international organizations to supervise the work. Supervision of the restoration work is estimated to cost approximately 1.5 million Cyprus pounds and is expected to be paid for by the UN High Commission for Refugees. He added that restoration work will be completed in five years.