Ending a three-day visit to Cyprus, a World Council of Churches' (WCC) staff delegation identified hope in the midst of the failure of recent peace negotiations. But it emphasized the need to reconcile the two communities at the grassroots level before a sustainable peace is possible.
"The Annan Plan (the Comprehensive Settlement of the Cyprus Problem), seems to have shifted the mindset of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. It has created hope and shown that [...] reunification of the island is possible," says Peter Weiderud, director of the WCC's Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA). "It is unfortunate that the plan was rejected, ending the recent peace negotiations under the UN secretary-general's auspices. The energy released in both communities, mainly among Turkish Cypriot youth, is in danger of turning into apathy, pessimism and frustration."
"There is very little interaction and a lot of mistrust between the two communities. The people of Cyprus need to address their past histories in honesty, heal pain on both sides, build confidence and trust. A peace plan has to engage the people of Cyprus at the grassroots, not just the treetops," says WCC/CCIA programme executive for Middle East Affairs Salpy Eskidjian.
"The Annan plan looked at reconciliation as a fruit of the settlement rather than as [...] leading to a settlement," Weiderud said. "Reconciliation needs to begin now, even in the absence of a signed plan, in order to pave the way for a solution. The churches have a unique role and responsibility to be a catalyst for such a process. "
Weiderud and Eskidjian visited Cyprus 31 March-3 April on behalf of the WCC general secretary and at the request of the Church of Cyprus (Greek Orthodox). Expressing "gratitude to the WCC for accompanying us at such a critical time in the country's history," WCC Central Committee member H.E. Bishop Vasilios Karayiannis of the External Relations Department of the Church of Cyprus noted that "The two communities still need the auspices of the UN secretary-general and international solidarity in order to solve this decades-long conflict, to bring together what has been divided by geopolitics, mistrust and war."
In addition to meeting with church representatives, WCC staff met with the president and foreign minister of the Republic of Cyprus, leaders of the Turkish Cypriot ruling coalition and of the opposition parties (Democratic Party, National Unity Party, Communal Liberation Party and Republican Turkish Party). They also exchanged views with the head of the United Nations Mission in Cyprus, the European Union ambassador, academics, and representatives of joint Greek-Turkish civil society groups.
A summary report of the visit will be available next week. A full report with policy recommendations will go to the meeting of the WCC Central Committee at the end of August 2003.