- The Washington Times - Monday, May 26, 2008

Stranger at home

Stefanos Stefanou holds a high position as the government spokesman of Cyprus but calls himself a refugee because his boyhood home is now on the Turkish-Cypriot side of the divided Mediterranean island.

On a visit to the village he left at the age of 9, Mr. Stefanou, a Greek-Cypriot, said he knocked on the door of the home once owned by his parents and met the Turkish-Cypriots living there.

“I am a refugee,” he said in an interview Friday at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel. “It is very strange to go back to your home and feel like a visitor.”

Mr. Stefanou and thousands of other Cypriots of both ethnic communities have been trying to find ways to reunite the island since the division in 1974 when Turkish troops invaded after a coup engineered by Greek officers serving in the National Guard of Cyprus.

Turkey said it acted to protect the ethnic Turkish minority, which had been in sporadic conflict with ethnic Greeks since the mid-1950s. Turkey is the only nation that recognizes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which declared independence from Cyprus in 1983.

Mr. Stefanou, on his first visit to the United States, made the rounds of Capitol Hill last week to explain the latest attempts at reunification.

Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias, elected earlier this year, and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat met first in March to declare their goal of creating a federation of both ethnic communities that would guarantee the rights of the minority. They met again Friday to reaffirm their commitment.

They established working groups to deal with many of the prickly issues that keep the communities divided and technical committees to handle day-to-day issues such as keeping six border crossings open. The crossing points have allowed thousands of ethnic Greeks and Turks to visit each other and have helped reduce tensions.

“The climate is good between the two communities,” Mr. Stefanou said. “We are trying to avoid the blame game.”

Mr. Stefanou is under no illusions about the difficulty of the task. His government faults Turkey for stalling progress. Since 1974, more than 160,000 Turks have settled in northern Cyprus, home to only about 85,000 ethnic Turkish-Cypriots, he said. At this point, no committee is even discussing the future status of the Turkish immigrants.

Diplomatic traffic

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:

Today

President Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic, who meets with Vice President Dick Cheney and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke. Tomorrow, he addresses a luncheon meeting at the National Press Club to discuss his new book, “Blue Planet in Green Shackles — What is Endangered: Climate or Freedom?” On Wednesday, he delivers the keynote address at the annual dinner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and receives the Julian L. Simon Memorial Award.

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