The UN Security Council welcomed on Wednesday next month’s UN-sponsored direct talks between Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot leaders, and council members expressed hope that they will lead to a reunification of the Mediterranean island, which has been divided for 27 years. Council members welcomed this and other positive developments and hope that progress will be achieved at the negotiating table, resulting in a comprehensive settlement, said a statement read by Mali Ambassador Moctar Ouane, this month’s president of the 15-member body. This suddenly more optimistic climate, which led council members to hope that a lasting agreement may be in sight, came about after an agreement between Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash on December 4 that they would resume direct talks in an effort to broker an agreement. That was their first face-to-face meeting in four years, which followed a 13-month boycott of UN-sponsored proximity talks by Denktash, who had walked out of the previous round of indirect talks. Cyprus has been divided into a Greek south and a Turkish north since Turkey invaded the Mediterranean island in 1974 in the wake of an abortive coup by supporters of union with Greece. The self-declared Turkish-Cypriot state in the island’s northern third is recognized only by Ankara. During Wednesday’s UN Security Council meeting on Cyprus – the first out of three to be held by the Council this week – council members were also briefed by Alvaro de Soto, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special advisor on Cyprus, who mediated the December 4 direct talks between the two Cypriot leaders. Annan informed the Council in a letter that the new round of direct talks is planned to begin on January 16. But the developments on the diplomatic front appear to be moving on separate tracks from those on the ground. In a report submitted by the UN secretary-general to the Security Council on November 30, recommending a six-month extension in the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), Annan declared the force’s mission as essential for the maintenance of the ceasefire on the island. Regrettably, no progress was made in removing the restrictions imposed by the Turkish-Cypriot authorities and Turkish forces on UNFICYP or in restoring the status quo ante at Strovilia, the secretary-general had noted then during his address to the Council. The report – covering the period from May 30 to November 27 this year – notes that there were 34 air violations, of which 11 were made by national guard aircraft and 12 by Turkish military aircraft, while as concerns violations of the maritime security lines, Turkish forces made 250 crossings of the western line near the Kokkina pocket. Actions of defiance by Turkish forces against the UN force and UN Security Council resolutions also continued, going beyond the restrictions imposed on UNFICYP at Strovilia. In connection with restrictions on UNFICYP by Turkish Forces/Turkish-Cypriot security forces, patrols by UNFICYP to the fenced-off areas of Varosha were prohibited, the report underlines. The patrols were resumed in September 2001 but are now escorted by Turkish-Cypriot forces. The Turkish forces persisted in hoisting flags on one of the buildings, in violation of the military status quo. The report also states that the number of meetings between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots decreased during the reported period. Numerous planned events could not go ahead because the Turkish-Cypriot authorities did not allow Turkish Cypriots to participate. Drunken suicide attempt. An Athens court yesterday described the actions of a drunken man who was hit by a car while trying to cross the Athens-Corinth highway in June last year as a suicide attempt. The prosecutor said his client, 55-year-old Efstathios Voukelatos, did not have time to react when 61-year-old Constantinos Yiannos suddenly appeared in the road in front of him. The coroner’s report confirmed Voukelatos had been under the influence of alcohol.