NEWS

Cyprus leaders tackle power-sharing issue

NICOSIA (AFP) – Leaders of the Greek and Turkish communities on Cyprus began a second week of hard bargaining on Monday over constitutional issues in talks aimed at ending decades of division on the eastern Mediterranean island. Greek-Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash finished Monday the fourth of an open-ended series of meetings, scheduled for every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 5.00 p.m. The two sides will hold extra talks this Thursday at 4.00 p.m., Denktash told reporters after returning from his rendezvous with Clerides. Otherwise, both leaders are sticking to an agreed embargo on statements, saying that leaks to the media would only hinder the process. The meetings are being held in a British colonial-era passenger terminal in the UN buffer zone at the disused Nicosia airport. This latest meeting lasted just over an hour, the shortest one to date. Press reports said Clerides and Denktash picked up where they left off Friday, by tackling the difficult issue of power-sharing in a new central administration. «The first week is behind us as the first week. We will now begin the second week. We hope that we will make better progress,» Denktash was quoted in the Turkish-Cypriot press as saying. Constitutional changes are a major stumbling block to ending the 28-year Cyprus problem and are expected to take up most of this early phase of settlement talks. The Greek-Cypriot side wants to negotiate a bizonal, bi-communal Cyprus Republic with two federal states, while the Turkish side is pushing for two separate states under a «loose» umbrella government. Sources close to the talks told AFP that neither side has so far budged in its views over a federal versus a two-state model solution. No real progress is expected until after the talks break for the weeklong Turkish holiday of Bairam at the end of February, the sources added. UN special envoy for Cyprus Alvaro de Soto is guiding the talks, but is said to be taking a back seat at this early stage. Media reports suggest he will take a more active role in bridging the constitutional gap between Clerides and Denktash after the break. The United Nations has budgeted $1.41 million for 10 rounds of talks, eight in Cyprus and probably one round in New York and Geneva. The talks are based on an «everything is on the table» and «nothing agreed until everything is agreed» premise. The two veteran negotiators, who have known each other for some 50 years, met December 4 for their first face-to-face talks in four years and agreed the first signs of a solution should emerge by June. Cyprus, a frontrunner for EU accession, aims to complete entry negotiations in the second half of 2002 and join in 2004.