Greek Cypriots demolished a wall Friday along the boundary that for decades has split Europe's last divided capital. For VOA, Nathan Morley reports from Nicosia.
Bulldozers moved into the center of old Nicosia late on Thursday to knock down a wall that separates the Greek Cypriot area it from the Turkish-controlled sector. The surprise demolition work began during the night.
The two sides have been at loggerheads over opening the crossing point for over a year since the Turkish side erected a bridge that would allow Turkish troops to continue patrolling a street nearby.
The Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister George Lillikas, who made a visit to the scene, told journalists that Turkish troops must now leave the area.
"The government has decided to destroy the checkpoint from our side, it was the only defense point we had in the city, so we are expecting after this unilateral decision of the government, the decision of the Turkish army to be removed from the area, in order to open the crossing point for citizens," he said.
His words were echoed by Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos who said that the crossing of people to the occupied northern part of the town would not begin until Turkish armed forces withdrew from the area.
"Once they agree to withdraw their troops, our check point can be removed in a few hours time I said, so now we will see if the Turkish troops will withdraw, so the passage will be open or not," he said.
Five other checkpoints have opened since April 2003, allowing Greek and Turkish Cypriots to visit the other side for the first time in three decades.
Since then the two sides have been engaged in talks with the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus to discuss what needed to be done to open the street. U.N. spokesman Brian Kelly told VOA that he hopes the move by the Greek Cypriot side would lead to the opening of the crossing.
"The overnight demolition of the wall is very welcome and positive contribution to efforts both to opening the crossing point at this location and create a positive atmosphere in which the search for a comprehensive settlement can flourish," he noted. "We in the U.N. put in place the arrangements so we are ready literally as soon the two sides are agreed as to how this process will move forward, we are ready with some funding from the European Union to ensure the areas safety."
Last month the Turkish army removed a pedestrian bridge on its side of Ledra Street, which had allowed military patrols to pass under it. At the time Turkish Cypriot officials said they expected Greek Cypriots to respond to the gesture by dismantling a defensive wall on their end of Ledra Street.
Cyprus was partitioned after a Turkish invasion in 1974, following a Greek-inspired coup. The United Nations has been working with both sides to resolve the island's 33-year division.