‘Unity in Cyprus a chance for peace’: Bildt

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt declared on Friday that the negotiations on reunification in Cyprus brokered by the UN offer an unprecedented chance for peace in the region as a whole.

“We have a unique window of opportunity for settling the Cyprus issue. Twenty years after the fall of the wall in Berlin we still have a divided capital in Europe and that should not be acceptable to anyone,” Bildt told reporters.

“The efforts underway in order to overcome this, is of course of profound importance for Cyprus – but has European and global significance.”

Cyprus President Demetris Christofias, a Greek Cypriot, and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, launched negotiations last September that were heralded by the international community as the best chance for peace.

Bildt said Europe is banking on a solution to bring a “positive dynamic” to the region as failure would have a negative knock-on effect for the EU and NATO.

Sweden takes over the EU presidency in July and one of its main tasks will be to review Turkey’s accession progress. Factored into this progress report will be the state of play on the Cyprus talks and Turkey’s obligation – under the 2004 Ankara protocol – to allow Cypriot aircraft and vessels into its ports.

“The review of the Ankara protocol is one of the things that is going to happen under the Swedish presidency and there is an obligation to do that towards the end of the year.”

However Bildt hopes that there will be a “different political situation” on Cyprus when that deadline looms. The foreign minister said Turkey’s accession is “very important” for the European Union but that any accession process is “dependent on fulfilling the criteria” of the bloc.

The rival Cypriot leaders resumed UN-brokered peace talks on Tuesday after hardline nationalists won parliamentary elections in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north, raising fears for the negotiations.

A UN-backed reunification plan in 2004 was scrapped after being rejected by Greek Cypriots but backed by Turkish Cypriots. Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded the northern third in response to an Athens-engineered Greek Cypriot coup to unite it with Greece.

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Sweden world’s 13th most peaceful nation

Sweden has been ranked the 13th most peaceful country in the world by a global peace index, down from 11th in 2014.

Sweden world's 13th most peaceful nation
Sweden's arms trade is keeping it down in the rankings. Photo: Lars Pehrson/SvD/TT

According to the 2015 Global Peace Index (GPI), recently released by the Institute for Economics and Peace, Iceland remains the world's most peaceful country.

Sweden's other Nordic neighbours Denmark, Finland and Norway all ranked in the top 20, taking the second, sixth and 17th spots respectively.

Denmark also came in second in the 2013 and 2014 reports, each time snapping at the heels of Iceland, which has been declared the world's most peaceful country each year since 2008.

According to the report, 15 of the 20 most peaceful countries in the world are in Europe, while the Middle East and North Africa remain the most violent regions in the world. The United States was at number 94, while Syria was at the very bottom of the 162-country list.

“The most substantial changes in the Index occurred in the Middle East and North Africa where several countries suffered from an upsurge in violence related to sectarian strife and civil conflicts,” the report noted.

Like in previous years, Sweden, which in 2014 celebrated two centuries of peace, is kept down in the rankings largely because it sells arms to other countries.

Despite enjoying a global reputation for peacemaking and generous foreign aid, the Scandinavian nation is the world's 11th largest exporter of weapons, including Saab's Jas Gripen jets, and has counted a number of regimes criticized for human rights abuses as its customers since the Cold War ended, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan.

READ ALSO: Sweden scraps controversial Saudi arms deal

The GPI comprises 23 indicators of the existence of violence or fear of violence, which include metrics such as the level of perceived criminality in the society, impact of terrorism, and military expenditure as percentage of the country's gross domestic product.

Each of the indicators for a given country is graded on a scale of one to five and then indexed into a final score, which can then be compared against other countries.

Sweden's indexed score was 1.36 while Iceland's was 1.148. In comparison, Syria's score was 3.645. Notably, Sweden scored around 1.0 or at least below 2.0 in nearly all areas apart from 'weapons exports' in which it received 5 out of 5.

A video explainer from the Institute for Economics and Peace is below and an interactive map can be accessed here