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Cyprus: final member of missing persons committee

Cyprus: final member of missing persons committee installed at UN ceremony

The third and final member of the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus today officially took up his duties at a ceremony in the United Nation Protected Area, part of an effort to resolve some of the consequences of the conflict between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots on the Mediterranean island.

Christophe Girod, the senior International Red Cross official in Washington, joins two Cypriot members on the Committee entrusted with the exhumation, identification and return of remains of missing persons from a dispute that spans more than four decades.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative in Cyprus, Michael Møller, oversaw the ceremony, which was attended by Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat. The Committee’s members welcomed the presence of the two leaders as a tangible message of support for their work.

Mr. Møller said he hoped Mr. Girod’s arrival would help accelerate the closing of a painful chapter in the history of Cyprus. The two Cypriot members said Mr. Girod’s arrival and the strengthening of the Committee would contribute to carrying out its humanitarian work for the benefit of the families of missing persons.

The UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ibrahim Gambari, already in the region to assess the political situation, had “a frank and constructive exchange” with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul today. He is set to meet with Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis on Wednesday moving on to Cyprus on Thursday.

Official contacts between the two parties on the island have not resumed since the April 2004 referendum on a comprehensive settlement plan, sponsored by Mr Annan, failed. About 65 per cent of Turkish Cypriots voted in favour, while 76 per cent of Greek Cypriots voted against it.

The UN has been involved in the island since March 1964 when the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) was established with a mandate to prevent a recurrence of fighting, contribute to the maintenance and restoration of law and order, and contribute to a return to normal conditions.

Currently the fourth-oldest UN peacekeeping operation in the world, it seeks to maintain stability in the 180-kilometre-long Buffer Zone and ensure that there is no alteration of the status quo along the two ceasefire lines drawn in 1974 after renewed fighting.

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