UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday urged leaders of divided Cyprus to return to the negotiating table and clinch a deal on reuniting the island, saying “they must not let this historic opportunity slip”.
Ban said he will be in contact soon with the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders to discuss the next steps with just five weeks to go before the UN chief hands over to Antonio Guterres to lead the world body.
”The secretary-general urges the leaders to continue their efforts in line with their shared commitment to do their utmost in order to reach a settlement in 2016,” said a statement from Ban's spokesman.
”Especially in a region and in a world marked by increasing tension, they must not let this historic opportunity slip,” he added.
UN-brokered talks held in Switzerland this month ended on Tuesday with no agreement, with the two sides still far apart on the key issue of land-for-peace.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the northern third of the island in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.
Ban said the sides should build on their “substantial achievements”, adding that “temporary setbacks are not uncommon in peace processes as talks approach a final stage.”
The outgoing UN chief had hoped to make a historic settlement on Cyprus a major achievement of his 10-year tenure at the head of the world body.
The United Nations re-launched negotiations between the two leaders 18 months ago in what was seen as the best hope of a settlement in years.
It has always been agreed that some of the territory currently controlled by the Turkish Cypriots would be ceded to Greek Cypriot control in any peace deal.
Turkish Cypriots made up just 18 percent of the island's population in 1974, but they currently control more than a third of its territory.
Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and the head of the breakaway state in northern Cyprus Mustafa Akinci were unable to agree on the boundaries of a new future federation comprised of the two communities.
Akinci had proposed that 29.2 percent of the island remain under Turkish Cypriot administration, but the Greek Cypriots were insisting on 28 percent.
The sides remained far apart on how many Greek Cypriots should be able to return to homes they fled in 1974, with Akinci determined to minimize the number of Turkish Cypriots who would be displaced.
Greek Cypriot media reports said Anastasiades had reduced his original target of 100,000 to 90,000, but that Akinci was still insisting on fewer than 70,000.