DERYNEIA, Cyprus (AP) — A new crossing point intended to encourage Cyprus' hoped-for reunification is nearing completion two years after the delay-plagued project was announced, Greek and Turkish Cypriot officials were told Thursday.
The Deryneia crossing, located near the east coast of Cyprus, was hailed as another important milestone in helping to build trust between the ethnically divided island's breakaway Turkish Cypriots in the north and Greek Cypriots living in the internationally recognized south.
Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci announced the crossing in May 2015, when they launched a new round of negotiations aimed at reunifying Cyprus as a federation.
But there have been delays, and work on the new passageway remains unfinished while troubled reunification talks trudge on.
Slovakia's ambassador to Cyprus, Oksana Tomova, organized a tour of the crossing point on Thursday, calling the link "one of the most important confidence-building measures agreed by the leaders of the two communities."
Deryneia would be the eighth such crossing since 2003, when the first cut was made through a U.N.-controlled buffer zone nearly three decades after Cyprus' was divided. The island's split came in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of uniting Cyprus with Greece.
Most of the road work has been finished. But barbed wire, metal obstacles, acacias and other unchecked vegetation still crowd the 150-yard stretch across the no-man's land that a nearby U.N. guard post oversees.
Deryneia Mayor Andros Karagiannis said the crossing's opening would be an economic boon for his community by increasing tourist traffic and easing commerce between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
Turkish Cypriot Halil Onashi said it would only take "a couple of minutes" to cross southwards from his home instead of having to take a longer, circuitous route through another crossing point.
No one on the tour could explain the reasons behind the delays. But an official with knowledge of the project's details who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the project said all that remains is for funding to be allocated.
"We want to believe that it'll open the soonest," said Averof Neophytou, president of the largest Greek Cypriot political party, the right-wing Democratic Rally. "But it's not enough to open crossing points after 43 years....What we want is to reunify our divided country."
In August 1996, the area where the new crossing will be located was the site of the worst outbreak of violence since the invasion. A Greek Cypriot man taking part in a protest against the island's division was killed after being attacked by Turkish Cypriots. His cousin was fatally shot trying to take down a Turkish flag at a guard post a couple days later.