Talks to end long divi­sion of Cyprus

‘His­toric’ chance for Greeks, Turks

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

LEAD­ERS of eth­ni­cally split Cyprus yes­ter­day set­tled down for a week of in­ten­sive talks, seek­ing to reach the out­line of a peace deal to end decades of divi­sion.

Hop­ing to suc­ceed where oth­ers failed, Turk­ish Cypriot leader Mustafa Ak­inci and Greek Cypriot leader Ni­cos Anas­tasi­ades were meet­ing in Geneva for three full days of dis­cus­sions.

The talks would sub­se­quently broaden on Thurs­day to in­clude other na­tions with a stake on the strate­gi­cally placed is­land.

As he ar­rived at the UN Euro­pean head­quar­ters and was asked if he was op­ti­mistic, Anas­tasi­ades said: “Ask me when we are fin­ished.”

New UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res, who was ex­pected to at­tend the con­fer­ence on Thurs­day, has de­scribed the talks as an “his­toric op­por­tu­nity” for a break­through.

Power-shar­ing, re­draw­ing prop­erty bound­aries and se­cu­rity is­sues in a fu­ture re­united home­land are key stick­ing points in ne­go­ti­a­tions that have re­sulted in log­jams in the past.

How­ever, me­di­a­tors are keen to cap­i­talise on the mo­men­tum of two mod­er­ates at the helm of their com­mu­ni­ties be­fore do­mes­tic elec­tion cy­cles dis­lodge the process.

“We must be cau­tious. We are not pes­simistic, but I see no need for ex­ag­ger­ated ex­pec­ta­tions that ev­ery­thing will just hap­pen. We are ex­pect­ing a dif­fi­cult week,” Ak­inci said on the eve of the talks.

Cyprus’s Greek and Turk­ish Cypri­ots have lived es­tranged since 1974, when Turkey in­vaded the is­land’s north af­ter a brief Greek-in­spired coup. The seeds of par­ti­tion were sown years ear­lier, soon af­ter in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain in 1960.

To­day, the is­land of just over a mil­lion in­hab­i­tants is split with Turk­ish Cypri­ots in the north and Greek Cypri­ots in the south, sep­a­rated by one of the world’s old­est UN peace­keep­ing forces.

The sta­tus of about 30 000 Turk­ish troops sta­tioned in Cyprus’s north is cru­cial. The Greek side in­sists they must all be pulled out, while the Turk­ish side says some must re­main.

That is­sue will dom­i­nate dis­cus­sions be­tween Bri­tain, Turkey and Greece on Thurs­day. The three are guar­an­tor pow­ers of Cyprus un­der a 1960 treaty that granted the for­mer colony in­de­pen­dence.

Bri­tain re­tains two strate­gi­cally im­por­tant bases on the is­land which are used in op­er­a­tions against Is­lamic State. Lon­don has said it would be will­ing to re­lin­quish about 49 per­cent of the 254km² cur­rently held to fa­cil­i­tate ter­ri­to­rial ad­just­ments.

Any agree­ment must be put to sep­a­rate ref­er­en­dums in the two com­mu­ni­ties, with diplo­mats an­tic­i­pat­ing a vote around June. A pre­vi­ous peace blue­print put to ref­er­en­dum in 2004 was ac­cepted by Turk­ish Cypri­ots but re­jected by Greek Cypri­ots.

An­a­lysts shy away from sug­ges­tions the process could be a last chance for peace, but say a unique op­por­tu­nity could be lost in set­tling a con­flict which has brought Greece and Turkey to the brink of war, and frus­trates Turkey’s am­bi­tions of join­ing the EU.

“If this time it fails be­tween th­ese two pro-so­lu­tion lead­ers… then a huge mo­ti­va­tion will be lost,” said aca­demic Ah­met Sozen, a Cypriot who has fol­lowed on-off peace talks for years.

“In some years, maybe, an­other process will start again but I’m not sure that the pa­ram­e­ters of the so­lu­tion will be the same.”

PIC­TURE: AP

Greek Cypriot Pres­i­dent Ni­cos Anas­tasi­ades, left, ar­rives with Spe­cial Ad­viser to the UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, for peace talks in Geneva, Switzer­land, yes­ter­day.

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