Zodhia crossing opens - Finger-pointing between both sides continues ahead of pilgrimage

THE ZODHIA crossing in Cyprus' west opened yesterday at 12.30pm without incident, ending months of speculation and political wrangling over when and if it would happen. Officials said that all mines have been removed.


The two sides had first agreed to open the Zodhia crossing, along with another one in Ledra, early this year. But it was not clear until late yesterday morning ' when the UN issued a press release declaring the opening of the checkpoint ' whether or not the it would in fact be ready in time for today's pilgrimage to Ayios Mamas in Morphou.

The Astromeritis-Zodhia crossing, which is about 10 kilometres southwest of Morphou, is the only crossing on the western side of the island.

The United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) is the supervising authority over the crossing and the surrounding dead zone and is responsible for posting signs and policing speed limits.

UNFICYP announced several temporary measures to ensure the safety of those crossing.
Among them: pedestrians are not permitted to cross, and only vehicles under three tonnes will be permitted to cross for a 13-hour period, lasting between 6am and 7pm.

Also, since the narrow 1.8km stretch of road in the buffer zone does not make for easy driving, traffic will be one-way only in alternating 15-minute periods.

UNFICYP press officer Brian Kelly told the Cyprus Mail yesterday that the UN had not removed the barbed wire barrier or announced the opening before 11.30am yesterday morning because they were waiting for "clear indications and clear responses from both sides that the temporary arrangements we were putting in place to facilitate the crossing were acceptable".

Kelly said that 12 cars came south after the initial opening and then traffic was relatively light for the rest of the day.

Today several buses of pilgrims will cross to the north via the Zodhia crossing to visit Ayios Mammas church in Morphou. UNFICYP will extend the operating hours of the Zodhia crossing "for a brief window of time" today to accommodate the pilgrims.

The pilgrims will also be exempt from the usual crossing procedures. To facilitate the crossing, the pilgrims will not be required to individually register at checkpoint control. Instead, their names and ID numbers will be entered into a catalogue, which will then be handed to the crossing guard.

Government spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides blamed the Turkish Cypriot side for the delay in the opening, claiming they wanted an opening elsewhere. Chrysostomides added that authorities in the north "had not announced their agreement with UNFICYP, demonstrating that they wanted to build a checkpoint on Greek Cypriot property for the political gain of the occupying regime."

Justice Minister Doros Theodorou, who attended the opening, also blamed the Turkish Cypriots for balking at the Greek Cypriot suggestion to open six other checkpoints in the area of Limniti, Kokkinou, Pyrgou, Dherynia, and Ledras.

Theodorou said that government had taken all necessary measures to ensure the crossing was safe, adding that "the mines have been removed from our side, even though the mine fields were placed by the occupying power".

Similar accusations have been levelled from the Turkish Cypriot side. In the last few weeks Turkish Cypriot "Prime Minister" Ferdi Sabit Soyer has been particularly critical of the EU and the Cypriot authorities, accusing them of delaying to prepare their side of the crossing, which includes tarmacking the road between both sides.

On August 18 Soyer invited Greek Cypriots to use the new Zodhia crossing to attend the September 1 Orthodox celebrations at Ayios Mammas church.

Earlier this month Greek Cypriot authorities stated that their arrangements with the EU meant that the infrastructure construction needed for the Zodhia crossing, which includes widening and tarmacking the road, and installing fences and lighting, would not be completed before 2006.

The European Commission is giving one million euros for the project under the United Nations Developmental Programme.

The Zodhia crossing should benefit both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. Turkish citrus growers in the Morphou region should especially benefit as the new travel route gives them an easier opportunity to transport their goods to Limassol from which they can be shipped off to EU markets.

The crossing should also relieve some of the congestion on the Ayios Dhometios crossing and divert some of the traffic from the busy and dangerous Nicosia-Kyrenia road.

Von: 01 September 2005, http://www.cyprus-mail.com, by Constantine Markides

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