Cypriot rivals agree to meet in bid to end deadlock

Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades speaks during a proclamation ceremony after the second round of the presidential election, at Eleftheria Hall in Nicosia, Cyprus, February 4, 2018. — Reuters pic
Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades speaks during a proclamation ceremony after the second round of the presidential election, at Eleftheria Hall in Nicosia, Cyprus, February 4, 2018. — Reuters pic

NICOSIA, Oct 12 — A rare meeting between rival Cypriot leaders will be arranged by the United Nations in the coming days in a bid to kick-start reunification talks after a 15-month hiatus.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said today the United Nations will arrange a meeting with his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akinci to try to end the current deadlock.

A UN-backed peace conference collapsed in acrimony in Switzerland in July 2017 and there have been no official negotiations since then.

The last time the rival leaders tried to get the talks back on track was at an informal dinner in April but the two men agreed to disagree on the way forward.

Anastasiades said his Turkish Cypriot counterpart was “positive” about a meeting under UN auspices.

“A meeting will be arranged through the UN in the coming days, depending on the schedule,” he said after talks with UN chief of mission Elizabeth Spehar.

Anastasiades said the meeting was not a signal that talks were resuming on ending the island’s more than four-decade division.

“As leaders of the two communities, we will simply exchange ideas, our thoughts, reflections, what the future holds, our prospects and how we can finally achieve a solution that’s sustainable and functional,” he said.

The United Nations has made clear it will not fully engage in a new peace process unless Cypriot leaders are committed to entering negotiations in a spirit of compromise.

The last talks aimed at reunifying the island as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation collapsed in Switzerland after the UN chief failed to get the parties to agree on post-settlement security arrangements.

It was the first time Cyprus talks had been joined by the island’s guarantor powers Britain, Greece and Turkey.

When Cyprus became independent in 1960, the three powers were given treaty rights to intervene to safeguard the island’s sovereignty.

The Greek Cypriots want those rights scrapped but Turkish Cypriots are reluctant to do so, having endured armed attack and isolation in besieged enclaves for a decade after Greek Cypriots unilaterally changed the constitution in 1963.

The other stumbling block is the number of Turkish troops who will remain on the island after a deal. Anastasiades wants all of them to leave, something strongly opposed by Akinci.

The two leaders failed to revive reunification talks at a UN-hosted informal dinner in April — their only meeting since the collapse of last year’s peace conference.

The UN is reluctant to step in while the two sides remain so far apart on core issues.

Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied its northern third in response to a coup sponsored by the military junta then in power in Athens seeking to unite the island with Greece.

Tensions in the region increased after Anastasiades’s internationally recognised government stepped up its search for offshore natural gas, a move opposed by Turkey before a peace deal is agreed. — AFP

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