Cyprus government unveils support measures for breakaway Turkish Cypriots ahead of UN envoy's visit

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The government of ethnically split Cyprus on Friday promised breakaway Turkish Cypriots a package of measures aimed at winning their trust ahead of a renewed United Nations attempt to revive long-dormant peace talks.

It includes promises to expedite citizenship applications, grant pensions to widows, offer more job training opportunities and allow easier access to Muslim places of worship, the government announced.

“Turkish Cypriots are citizens of the Cyprus Republic, we’re showing that in practice,” Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides told reporters Friday.

Cyprus was divided along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup aimed at uniting with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence over the island’s northern third, where it maintains more than 35,000 troops.

The package of 14 measures also includes providing urgently needed medication, expanded trade of goods between the breakaway north and the internationally recognized south, and easing north-south crossings at eight checkpoints along a 180-kilometer (120-mile) United Nations-controlled buffer zone.

It comes a few days before the U.N. secretary-general’s newly appointed personal envoy Maria Angela Holguin Cuellar, visits Cyprus to get a sense from both sides of whether there’s enough common ground for a resumption of peace talks after more than six years of complete stalemate.

Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar earlier this week dismissed the measures as a Greek Cypriot attempt to impose sovereignty and subjugate Turkish Cypriots while trying to impress Holguin.

Although Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, only the south where Greek Cypriots are located enjoys full membership benefits.

The fact that U.N. Chief Antonio Guterres has appointed an envoy to let him know whether talks are worth another try signals a large measure of caution following numerous failed attempts to produce an accord. The two sides have grown farther apart since the last major push for progress in the summer of 2017.

Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots say the only way to peace is a two-state deal, ditching an agreement to reunify the island as a federation composed of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot zones.

The majority Greek Cypriots reject anything that would formalize partition, as well as demands for a Turkish Cypriot veto on all federal-level government decisions, a permanent Turkish troop presence and Turkish military intervention rights.