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Turkish-Cypriots to Receive $300 Million in EU Aid - 2004-04-29

The European Union has approved more than $300 million in aid for the Turkish community in northern Cyprus, and agreed to ease trade restrictions on the enclave. Turkish-Cypriots voted in favor of a U.N. plan to reunite the divided island, but Greek-Cypriots rejected it. The ethnic-Greek southern part of the island will join the European Union on Saturday. EU ministers meeting in Luxembourg approved the money, which officials say will go for construction and admitting fish, food, and other items from Northern Cyprus into the European Union under preferential trade conditions.

The accord means that goods produced in Northern Cyprus may be exported to the EU internal market across the green-line boundary strip that divides the island. Turkish Cypriot goods have been subject to severe trade restrictions since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and the island split politically, after a coup in Nicosia backed by Greece.

Jean-Christophe Filori, the European Commission spokesman for enlargement, hailed the development.

"This decision now can be seen as a first step toward bringing both communities closer together, as a first step toward ending the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots on Cyprus," he said.

The internationally recognized ethnic-Greek side of the island has been scheduled to join the European Union for some time. That will happen on Saturday as scheduled. But because the Greek-Cypriots rejected the U.N. reunification plan, the ethnic-Turkish north of the island will be left out.

The EU decisions are designed to ease the impact of that situation. They are also a significant departure from years of political and economic isolation for northern Cyprus, which has been shunned by the international community since it declared itself an independent country after the 1974 split with the south.

Greek Cypriots opposed the U.N. plan because it allowed Turkish troops to stay on the island and did not provide full property rights to people who lost their homes and businesses when the island was divided.