German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Cyprus on 'historic' visit

German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks back at Maltese Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi (not pictured) during a welcome ceremony outside the Auberge de Castille, the Office of the Prime Minister, in Valletta January 10, 2011. Chancellor Merkel is in Malta on a two-day official visit. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

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Jan 11 (KATAKAMI / EXPATICA.COM) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Cyprus on Tuesday for a landmark visit to help boost faltering UN-backed efforts to reunify the Mediterranean island after decades of division.

Both the Cypriot government and media have described the visit as “historically important” and “politically significant”.

Pro-government communist daily Haravghi splashed “Willkommen” (welcome in German) across its front page, while the right-wing Simerini called it a short but important visit.

Apart from the Cyprus problem, the German chancellor would be keen to talk about closer NATO-EU cooperation which the island’s division has hampered, according to the reports.

Merkel is on a five-hour “working visit” to Nicosia, the world’s last divided capital following the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, in the first ever by a German head of government.

She will hold talks with Cyprus President Demetris Christofias before they have lunch together, and then Merkel will come face-to-face with the island’s division when travels to the green line.

Once in the UN-patrolled buffer zone she will spend some time at the Goethe Institute, hold a meeting with UN chief of mission Lisa Buttenheim before seeing main right-wing Disy opposition leader Nicos Anastasiades.

Her trip comes a day before Christofias, the Greek Cypriot leader, and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Dervis Eroglu are to resume peace talks on Wednesday after a long break.

“Naturally, Germany is in favour of the reunification of Cyprus. It is the first visit of a German chancellor, which carries great weight and is of huge importance,” Christofias told reporters last week.

He said Merkel’s visit was on a par with the historic visits of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Pope Benedict XVI who arrived in Cyprus to much fanfare last year.

“Such visits are of great significance as they give important support in efforts to reach a settlement based on a bizonal, bicommunal, federal solution.”

Christofias said Merkel would be warmly welcomed with “feelings of gratitude” towards a “major player in world affairs.”

The latest peace process was launched amid renewed international optimism in September 2008. But with no signs of tangible progress, UN chief Ban Ki-moon has stepped in to try to add impetus.

The trio are expected to meet again in Geneva, Switzerland on January 26 after a review last November in New York of the sluggish peace process.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded and seized its northern third in response to an Athens-engineered coup in Nicosia to unite the island with Greece.  (*)

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