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Tuesday, 15 January, 2002, 16:49 GMT
Cyprus veterans share chemistry
Rauf Denktash (left) and Glafcos Clerides
Denktash (left) suggested a "heart-to-heart" meeting
By Gerald Butt

As political rivals go, Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash are unusual, to say the least, in that they have so much in common.

Both, as young men in the 1950s, trained to be lawyers in London.

When these two jovial veterans meet, there is never a shortage of reminiscences to keep the conversation flowing

Back in Nicosia, Mr Clerides defended members of a militant group accused of carrying out acts of violence against the British colonial authorities, while Mr Denktash represented the prosecution.

The two men, veterans respectively of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot political stage, have known each other ever since.


In the period after the Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus in 1974, it would be an exaggeration to say that they remained friends or even that they were in regular contact.

Turkish Cypriots protesting against Denktash policies and demanding swift resolution of the issue
Some Turkish Cypriots want concessions, and early EU entry

In their bellicose public statements, it would be hard to guess that there was any love lost between them.

In viewing the Cyprus problem, they sit firmly on opposite sides of the fence.

Nevertheless, at the personal level, it is another matter.

When one of them has experienced a loss of a family member or another tragedy, the other has sometimes quietly sent a message of condolence and support.


In early 2001 Mr Denktash, who had previously refused to go on attending proximity talks arranged by the United Nations in New York, suggested that he and Mr Clerides should hold "a heart-to-heart" meeting to try to resolve their differences as old friends.

Mr Clerides replied saying that he would only accept the invitation if the meeting took place within the UN context.

A private, handwritten exchange of personal letters between the two resulted in an agreement on the date and venue of the meeting.

Owner of the cafe in the Turkish part of Nicosia waits for clients
Sanctions have hit Turkish Cypriots hard
It was arranged that on 4 December they would both come to the residence of the chief of the UN mission in Cyprus, situated in the buffer zone that runs east to west across the island and through the centre of the capital, Nicosia.

The prospects for that encounter - the first face-to-face one between the two men for four years - did not look promising.

President Clerides appeared to be clinging to his refusal to recognise the breakaway of state of northern Cyprus, opting instead for the UN idea of a "bi-zonal" settlement of the island's problem.

Mr Denktash, for his part, seemed just as determined to demand a two-state confederation as the basis for a solution.

The only hope, it seemed, was that the two men could find a way of reviving some of the personal chemistry that existed between them in the past.

Unusual rivalry

This seems to be what happened. An hour later they emerged, smiling, to go their separate ways.

The personal relationship between the two old adversaries was strong enough to enable them to agreeon a new peace process

It was left to the UN Secretary-General's special envoy to Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto, to announce that the two leaders had agreed to resume direct negotiations in Nicosia in mid-January with no preconditions.

Before the day had ended, a Cypriot Government spokesman confirmed that President Clerides had accepted an invitation from Mr Denktash to attend a dinner at this residence the following evening in honour of Mr de Soto.

Not since the Turkish invasion and occupation of the northern third of Cyprus in 1974 has a president of the republic set foot there.

In the space of an hour, then, the personal relationship between the two old adversaries had been strong enough to enable agreement to be reached on the start of a new UN-brokered peace process and on a move that could - just possibly - break the whole mould of Cypriot politics.

Of one thing one can be sure. Whenever and wherever these two jovial veterans have an opportunity to meet, there is never a shortage of reminiscences to keep the conversation flowing.

An unusual rivalry, indeed.

See also:

03 Dec 01 | Europe
Cyprus' quiet crisis
23 Nov 01 | Europe
Turkey holds key Cyprus debate
30 Oct 01 | Business
Turkey awaits IMF funds
17 Sep 01 | Business
Turkey rattled by conflict fears
31 Aug 01 | Business
Turkey's economy shrinks
31 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Cyprus
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