Tue, Jul 04, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders meet in buffer zone

AFP , NICOSIA

Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos met with Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat yesterday for the first time in two years over the conflict on the divided Mediterranean island.

The talks in the UN-patrolled buffer zone are focused on the fate of missing persons -- one of the thorniest issues dividing the two communities for decades.

Press reports said the meeting, expected to be followed by a second encounter on Saturday, could signal a thaw in relations between the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot sides.

It was the two leaders' first encounter since the failure of a UN reunification plan for the island which was rejected by Greek Cypriots in a referendum in April 2004 but approved by Turkish Cypriots.

The pair shook hands and posed for pictures after arriving at the Nicosia headquarters of the UN peacekeeping force near the now-disused international airport.

Also present at the meeting, hosted by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's representative in Cyprus, Michael Moeller, were the recently appointed international member of the UN-sponsored Committee on Missing Persons, Christophe Girod, and the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot representatives on the committee.

Peace talks between the two sides have been on hold ever since the failed referendum, and aides of Papadopoulos made clear that he would limit the agenda of the talks to the issue of people still posted as missing from communal disturbances on the island between 1963 and the Turkish invasion of 1974.

According to the UN, the number of missing is 1,468 Greek Cypriots and 502 Turkish Cypriots.

The missing persons committee has warned that because of a shortage of funds, it was launching a small-scale exhumation programme over a period of two months beginning in the middle of next month.

The estimated annual cost of exhumations is US$3.3 million and funding was one of the topics being discussed by the two leaders.

A statement from the committee described next month's program as "a step in the right direction."

Another opportunity for a face-to-face Papadopoulos-Talat meeting could come during the visit of senior UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who is expected on Thursday for a round of contacts with both leaders.

Turkish troops invaded the island's northern third 32 years ago after a Greek Cypriot coup in Nicosia seeking union with Greece.

The breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognized only by Ankara.

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