Sat, May 24, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Rival Cypriot leaders restart talks

AP , NICOSIA

The leaders of Cyprus' rival Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities were to meet yesterday to try to clear up disagreements that have strained attempts to reunify the ethnically divided island.

Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat agreed in March to restart long-stalled reunification talks. Christofias’ election in February, replacing a hardliner, rekindled hopes that the decades-old division of Cyprus could finally be resolved.

But the initial optimism has been replaced by concern, with Greek Cypriots worried about the lack of progress ahead of the scheduled start of direct negotiations between Talat and Christofias late next month.

In his meeting with Talat, Christofias was to seek reassurances that the Turkish Cypriots and Turkey are not aiming for a two-state settlement that would formally split the island instead of the long-standing agreement for a loose bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.

Such fears among Greek Cypriots stem from an April 24 statement by Turkey’s National Security Council referring to a solution “based on the realities on the island and on the existence of two separate peoples and two democracies.”

Cyprus has been split along ethnic lines since 1974, when Turkey invaded in response to an abortive coup by supporters of union with Greece. More than three decades of negotiations have failed to produce a lasting result.

In a bid to ensure these negotiations are successful, working groups from the two sides have been trying to narrow differences before next month’s talks. In their meeting, Christofias and Talat were to review what progress they had made.

The Cyprus government has complained of a lack of progress, especially on the more contentious issues such as security, and has said direct negotiations between the two leaders cannot start without some positive movement.

But Talat has said direct talks will begin next month regardless of whether they have made headway, unless one side backs out.

On Thursday, Talat’s spokesman Hasan Ercakica said “it would be wrong” to claim that no progress has been made. He dismissed a two-state solution and reiterated Turkish Cypriot support for a federated Cyprus.

Another sticking point so far has been whether any new peace deal would be modeled on a UN plan that Turkish Cypriots accepted but Greek Cypriots rejected in 2004.

Hubert Faustmann, a political analyst, said the government interprets a perceived lack of progress as Turkish and Turkish Cypriot unwillingness to shift away from the UN blueprint.

Greek Cypriots saw the plan as compromising their security by granting Turkey intervention rights and a permanent military presence on the island.

“The question now is how willing are the Turkish Cypriots to move away from the [UN] plan ... Are they willing to renegotiate a deal?” said Faustmann, a political science professor at Nicosia University.

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