Cyprus peace talks begin on future of divided island

Geneva, Jan 9 (IANS) Leaders of ethnically-divided Cyprus met in Geneva on Monday for peace talks intended to reach a deal in the context of the UN-led negotiations for reunifying the island, the media reported.

The talks between Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci will be held for three days, the BBC reported.

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

The UN envoy in Geneva said both the leaders “really want to make this work”.

Cyprus has been split since Turkish troops invaded in 1974, following an Athens-inspired coup by Greek Cypriots seeking union with Greece.

The northern third of the island is inhabited by Turkish Cypriots and the southern two-thirds by Greek Cypriots.

The aim is to create some kind of united but federal Cyprus where power is shared between the two communities.

Previous attempts at reunifying the island have failed.

Both leaders said they are committed to achieving a deal and acknowledged that there are key issues that still need to be thrashed out.

But if they make progress, leaders from the three countries that currently guarantee Cyprus’s security — Britain, Greece and Turkey — will join the talks, said the report.

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

UN envoy Espen Barth Eide said the two leaders still had some obstacles, but had “demonstrated a degree of will and leadership that we haven’t seen for a very, very long time in Cyprus. The neighbours, including Greece and Turkey, seem to be willing to be helpful, maybe even more this time than before”.

Talks have already been going on for some 19 months and significant stumbling blocks remain.

Any deal reached in Geneva would also have to backed by both communities in separate referendums later this year. An earlier UN reunification was backed in 2004 by a majority of Turkish Cypriots but overwhelmingly rejected by Greek Cypriots.