Religious and political leaders of Cyprus hold historic meeting

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The religious leaders of Cyprus pledged their support to the efforts of the political leaders to bring a comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus problem

Both religious and political leaders of the island came together for the first time on Thursday at the Ledra Palace Hotel in an historic meeting, held under the auspices of the Swedish Embassy

Church of Cyprus Archibishop Chrysostomos II, Mufti of Cyprus Talip Atalay, Archbishop of the Maronite Church of Cyprus Soueif, Archbishop of the Armenian Orthodox Church of Cyprus Nareg and Reverend Jerzy Kraj of the Latin Catholic Church of Cyprus met at Ledra Palace for an hour before being joined by President of the Republic Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci for lunch. They were accompanied by moderator of the Office of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process, Peter Weiderud and the Ambassador of Sweden, Klas Gierow.

In remarks after the meeting, Weiderud said the religious leaders of Cyprus have come a long way since the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process under the auspices of the Embassy of Sweden brought them together in 2009. “At that time the religious leaders had not talked to each other, only about each other and their communities, since the conflict started in 1963

He said the Cyprus conflict is not a religious conflict but religion and freedom of religion have become victims of the conflict” and as many other human rights principles, religion has sometimes been used to fuel the conflict of this island

As religion has been part of the division, he said, “the Cyprus conflict has hampered the development of a fully modern understanding of freedom of religion in both communities

He remarked that the willingness of both community leaders to meet with the religious leaders in Ledra Palace gives great hope not only for the advancement of the common agenda on freedom of religion and belief but also how religion and dialogue of the religious leaders can better contribute to sustainable peace on the island and that has very much been the focus of the talks today

Weiderud said the religious leaders reiterated their principle request to have free access for worship, upkeep, renovation and restoration of their respective religious monuments on both sides of the Green Line. They also reiterated, and it was appreciated, to have regular meetings when needed between the religious leaders and the community leaders

The religious leaders also reiterated their position outlined in February where they expressed their support to the political process and offered “their strong support to the community leaders to the dedicated work they are doing

Asked whether the discussion included the issue of religious property on both sides, Weiderud said the “principle of access to all places of worship has been addressed not only today but continuously by all religious leaders”. He said this was  fully understood by the community leaders and fully shared. “This is a basic principle of human rights”, he said, adding that with the history of the conflict we are talking about a lot of practical problems

He explained that some of these issues have to take sometime to resolve and it is important to find the proper mechanism to do that

Some of that has been discussed at today`s meeting, but he did not elaborate

 “We are talking several hundred of places of worship and monuments where there is problem with access and limitations on both sides. It is a huge problem but it has to be addressed in a proper and sustainable way he remarked

Both the community leaders and religious leaders also agreed to need to meet on a regular basis and when necessary, adding the atmosphere of the meeting was very good

Asked if something tangible has come out of the first meeting of the political and religious leaders, he said this has been the first meeting in the history of Cyprus in this setting, between the religious leaders and the political leaders. We cannot expect to come out with a lot of details and what has been decided

 That would be unfair and unwise

Weiderud said it was a meeting of sharing and perspectives and offering a common understanding and also hope for the future of Cyprus and hope for a solution

 This they all agree upon.

 So they have discussed specific issues but they have to be announced by the religious leaders and by political leaders in due time

The refugee issue has been discussed by the religious leaders, said Weiderud and all of them are of the understanding that humanity comes first in a situation of crisis

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third.

 UN-led talks, aiming to reunite the island under a federal roof, resumed on May 15, this year