People walk next to the closed Ledra checkpoint of the U.N.-controlled buffer zone in Nicosia, Cyprus June 2, 2021. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou
June 2, 2021
NICOSIA (Reuters) -Checkpoints linking the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides of Cyprus are to reopen on Friday, the United Nations said, marking the first time restrictions have been eased since December 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cyprus is split between its Greek and Turkish Cypriot populations, with a number of designated checkpoints controlling movements between the north and south of the island.
The sealed checkpoints up-ended the lives of thousands who would cross the island daily either for work, family commitments or just to meet friends. On some days, kilometre-long queues would form at vehicle crossings.
"The reopening of all crossing points will facilitate free movement, promote people-to-people contacts, build trust and have an overall positive socio-economic impact across the island for the benefit of all Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots," the U.N. mission on Cyprus, UNFICYP, said in a statement.
A committee of health experts from both sides will assess the impact of the opening on the pandemic. People who cross will require a 7-day negative antigen test or PCR test, the peacekeeping mission said.
Vehicle and pedestrian crossings have been subject to on-and-off closures since February 2020, when the Greek Cypriot side shut the checkpoints for the first time in almost two decades as a precaution.
Since then there has been some easing of restrictions, but different rules on each side made crossings impossible for many.
"It affected many people, couples, families, people working on both sides of the divide as well as having an economic impact," said Kemal Baykalli, a member of the peace platform, Unite Cyprus Now.
Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974, triggered by a brief Greek Cypriot coup. Peace talks have faltered many times, and the conflict remains a source of tension between NATO allies Greece and Turkey.
"I think what this has shown us is that what we take for granted can easily be taken away from us in the lack of a settlement," Baykalli said.