Crunch time nears for Cyprus peace talks


Cyprus peace talks are nearing a critical juncture where rival leaders will have to make tough calls if the island is to be reunited, UN envoy Espen Barth Eide said Tuesday.

"As you know the leaders are now going into maybe the most intense phase of the negotiations," Eide told reporters after meeting Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades.

"Most of our conversation today was on how to structure… the days and weeks ahead because we are coming to a moment where really some decisive agreements have to be made," he said.

Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akinci have agreed to step up their efforts next month in the UN-brokered peace talks to end the island’s four-decade-old division.

Hard decisions remain on thorny issues such as territorial adjustments, power sharing and property rights that have stymied countless previous initiatives.

"We are also now in the depth of one of the most difficult issues, which is the property issue, I think that should be well known," Eide said.

The two leaders are to meet again on October 30 and to intensify their face-to-face talks next month, when local media say top foreign diplomats are expected to visit the island to help encourage them to make game-changing decisions.

"There is a momentum now that Cypriots really need to grasp and that’s exactly why the leaders have decided… November will be a particularly intense phase in the process," said Eide.

The leaders are working on a formula to resolve the issues of property and territorial adjustment that would create a united, federal Cyprus.

Without a solid compromise on property and territory, a solution would be hard to sell to their respective communities.

And any peace accord must be ratified by Cypriots at the ballot box.

Allowing as many Cypriots to return home as possible while adequately compensating those who cannot would improve the prospects of a long-elusive settlement.

Tens of thousands of Cypriots were displaced after the 1974 Turkish invasion, including a population exchange which effectively split the island between a Turkish Cypriot north and a Greek Cypriot south.

Many believe the good chemistry between Anastasiades and Akinci can create a climate of trust in order for an elusive deal to be reached.

The current round of long-stalled peace talks – in what is seen as the last best chance to reunify Cyprus – were launched on May 15.

Lack of a Cyprus settlement is hurting Ankara's own bid to join the European Union, with Nicosia blocking a number of chapters in the negotiation process.

Cyprus has been divided since Turkish troops occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece. [AFP]