Cyprus divisions could end as UN announces reunification talks

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, center, shakes hands with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, left, and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, right, at the United Nations headquarters. Picture: AP Photo/Craig Ruttle
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, center, shakes hands with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, left, and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, right, at the United Nations headquarters. Picture: AP Photo/Craig Ruttle
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United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has announced that the rival leaders of ethnically divided Cyprus have agreed on new talks in Geneva this month, a significant step forward which could see the final round of negotiations on a peace agreement to reunify the Mediterranean island.

Mr Guterres invited Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci to a working dinner at UN headquarters to try and break an impasse.

Two years of negotiations have made significant strides, but a dispute over how a final summit aiming for a reunification deal should proceed brought talks to a standstill late last month.

Cyprus was split into a Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish Cypriot north in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by Cypriots who supported uniting the island with Greece. Turkish Cypriots declared an independent state in 1983, but only Turkey recognises it and still maintains around 35,000 troops there.

Mr Anastasiades insisted on first dealing with the issue of the withdrawal of Turkish troops that Greek Cypriots consider a threat. He has proposed that an international police force oversee post-reunification security, but the minority Turkish Cypriots see Turkish troops and military intervention rights accorded to Ankara as their only protection.

Mr Akinci insisted he wanted no conditions and that the Geneva summit should be a give-and-take on all issues.

Mr Guterres announced that both leaders agreed the issue of security is “of vital importance” and “an essential element in reaching an overall agreement and in building trust between the two communities” - and would be given a high priority in Geneva.

He said his special adviser on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, will engage with all participants “in preparation of the common documents to guide discussions on security and guarantees”.

Mr Eide called off mediation efforts on 26 May following the disagreement between Anastasiades and Akinci but said three days later that despite the breakdown “we are indeed very, very close - 
actually more close than most people seem to understand” to an agreement to reunite Cyprus.

Mr Guterres did not announce a date for the new round of talks, saying they would be held “soon” after consultations with the three guarantors of Cyprus’ security - Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom.