Peace talks between the rival leaders on divided Cyprus on Thursday broke up in acrimony over a 1950 referendum, but UN Special Adviser on Cyprus Espen Barth Eide said the process was still on track.
Eide said that although the meeting “was not a very happy one” and “ended up abruptly” the next round would still go ahead as planned next week.
“I am glad to convey to you that both leaders are committed to the process and nobody sees this process as over, terminated or even suspended,” Eide said.
“There have been no cancelations as of now ... no change to the program,” he said, adding that the next round would take place as scheduled on Thursday next week.
Tensions have soared over the approval by the Greek Cypriot parliament for schools in the south of the island to mark the 1950 referendum on “Enosis,” or union with Greece.
Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akinci said that when the issue of scrapping the decision came up, Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said there “was nothing else to say, slammed the door and left.”
“At that point there was nothing more to do as this meeting needs to be conducted in an atmosphere of respect so we also left the meeting,” he told reporters.
However, Anastasiades said the Turkish Cypriot side left the talks first.
Akinci’s walkout was “unwarranted and without cause or reason,” he said on television, adding that Eide, chairing the meeting, had also been “unaware of what happened.”
Anastasiades said Eide had tried to persuade Akinci to return, but he was “adamant” and left.
Eide himself later spoke about what happened.
“The meeting ended abruptly, which is unfortunate,” the UN envoy said. “At some point in an emotional meeting that was difficult for all participants, Akinci himself said that he left this meeting.”
The 1950 referendum — before Cyprus won independence from colonial ruler Britain — overwhelmingly approved Enosis, but had no legal value.
Almost 96 percent of the island’s majority Greek Cypriots signed up in favor of union between Cyprus and the “motherland” Greece in the unofficial referendum held in churches and coffee shops across the island, according to its organizers, the Cyprus Greek Orthodox Church.
The new schools legislation, sponsored by the ELAM party, essentially calls for secondary-school students to mark the referendum anniversary by learning about the event and reading leaflets dedicated to understanding the Enosis cause.
In a letter on Wednesday to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Akinci said that the move would cause “great damage” to the peace process.
Turkey has criticized Anastasiades for trying to make light of the referendum and demanded the Greek Cypriots change their “mentality” when it comes to accepting Turkish Cypriots as “co-owners of the island.”
The two sides have been engaged in fragile peace talks since May 2015 that observers have seen as the best chance in years to reunify the island.
The UN last month hosted talks in Geneva, bringing both sides together for the first time with the three “guarantor powers” of Britain, Greece and Turkey.
Much of the progress until now has been based on the strong personal rapport between Anastasiades and Akinci, leader of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus who was born in Limassol, which is now in the south.
The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the north in response to a coup seeking Enosis.