Positive relationships have been built on an innovative peace visit to Cyprus by teenagers from the Erne East area of Fermanagh, Clones, Ballybay, Castleblayney, Carrickmacross, Monaghan town, Ballinode and East Belfast.

Their recent study visit to Cyprus was part of the Youth Work Ireland-Monaghan led Peace by Piece Youth Project. This initiative is part financed by the European Union's European Regional Development Fund through the Peace III Programme funded through Monaghan Peace III Partnership; its aim is to create greater awareness of different traditions and increase trust, tolerance and understanding and to increase the willingness and confidence of the local community to promote peace building and celebrate diversity.

A representative explained that preparations for the trip had been ongoing for several weeks.

"The travelling party of 25 was made up of a former UVF prisoner, a former IRA prisoner, a PSNI Sergeant from Lisnaskea, two youth workers, one of whom is Councillor Thomas O'Reilly, current Chair of Fermanagh District Council, four young people from Fermanagh, three from East Belfast and 13 from across the county of Monaghan," mentioned the spokeswoman.

During the preceeding weeks, the group met on six different occasions to get to know each other. The stories of the ex-prisoners were presented and discussed and the story of the development of the PSNI from RIC to RUC to PSNI was also discussed. The group looked at the history of the island of Ireland and also the history of the island of Cyprus.

"The similarities and differences were discussed and some of the group visited the Cypriot ambassador in Dublin to hear more about his country. The group also visited East Belfast and went on a walking tour of the area led by the young participants from the Dee Street area," indicated the spokeswoman.

Having built bonds within the group, the party travelled to Nicosia, where its first stop was the United Nations Police Force in Cyprus headquarters where the group met Sgt. Stephen Sullivan and Garda Joe Ryan of An Garda S�och�na who are part of the UN Police force serving in Cyprus.

The spokeswoman went on to say: "Here, the history of Cyprus was explained, the fact that it was always under the control of a foreign power, from 1878 until 1960 this was Britain. In 1960 Cyprus gained its independence but there was continuous unrest between the Turkish Cypriots who lived mainly in the North and the Greek Cypriots who lived mainly in the South of the country. Following 14 years of unrest, Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 and took over 37 per cent of the island. This invasion, or intervention, as some call it, resulted in the island being divided by a buffer zone, often referred to as the "Green Line". After meeting the UN Police, the group's next stop was the Irish Ambassador's house where Ambassador Patrick Scullion hosted lunch; later that day they explored the city of Nicosia.

On October 25, the group met Michael Howe from the British High Commission and Mr. Kakouris from the Cypriot Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and on October 26 they "met a bi-communal group of teachers from North and South Cyprus and learned about how history is taught in Cyprus and how the different sides in the conflict in Cyprus portray the other side in the history books." They visited the beach in Limassol and swam in the Mediterranean sea. On Saturday, the group visited a youth club in Orounda and learned about young people in Cyprus and also more about the conflict.

Sunday saw the group head to the Troodos mountains to explore some of the Cypriot countryside and to visit the Kalledonian waterfall. They returned home on October 29. "There were many lessons learned during the trip," felt the spokeswoman.

Natasha Nolan, a young participant, mentioned: "Through the process we heard stories from different sides of the conflict in Northern Ireland and we also heard about the transition from RIC to RUC to PSNI. What I took out of it all was that despite our differences and the fact that different flags and symbols mean different things to us, we are all people and deserving of respect." Mary Lynch, Regional Director, Youth Work Ireland-Monaghan said: "It was a challenging process bringing all the different perspectives together, one of the greatest learning points for the young people was the realisation that in conflict there are many victims, those who are killed and injured, their families, friends and communities and that does not change regardless of whether the victim was a combatant, a civilian or a member of the security forces. Everyone who is killed or injured has family who care for them."

Councillor O'Reilly said he was delighted to be part of the group that travelled to Cyprus to learn about the conflict that happened on that island and "to have the opportunity to participate in a project that will give young people a better understanding of our history and increase their capacity to ensure a sustainable peaceful future".

He congratulated Monaghan Peace III Partnership for its "forward thinking in funding this innovative peace building project which has definitely built relationships across community lines".

The Cyprus visit is just one part of the Peace by Piece project; people can watch out for further events and visit www.facebook.com/ywimon www.youthworkireland.ie/monaghan or phone Andrea on 00353 87 7775222.