NEWS

Cypriots gearing up for dialogue

Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot negotiators met yesterday for the first time in four years to lay the groundwork for reunification talks between the leaders of the divided island that are expected to start in June. Hopes of reuniting Cyprus have risen since Greek-Cypriot Dimitris Christofias was elected president in February. Working groups of experts met at the abandoned Nicosia Airport in the buffer zone that has separated the two communities for the past 34 years. «This is a momentous occasion (and) evidence of commitment and determination,» said Elizabeth Spehar, acting head of the United Nations mission in Cyprus, as the talks began. «I hope that concrete results can be achieved from this process over coming weeks that will provide a solid basis for the leaders to move forward,» she said. UN attempts to reunify the Mediterranean island have repeatedly stalled. Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat and Christofias have met twice since the latter’s election, and are expected to meet again socially on May 7. Around 150 Greek-Cypriot, Turkish-Cypriot and United Nations officials will make up the 13 working groups that will meet daily at the former airport. Their agenda will range from the thorny issues of security and territory to day-to-day concerns such as crime and health. «In the coming days, getting emotional, angry or intransigent will be luxuries we cannot afford to have,» said senior Talat aide Ozdil Nami. «Our leaders expect us to deliver results to be used in their direct negotiations in less than three months. So we don’t have much time.» George Iacovou, senior aide to Christofias, said it would be «completely impossible» to start direct negotiations between the two leaders without some progress at the group level. He predicted convergence on some issues and problems on others in a process working at different speeds. »I don’t think really you can say there will be progress or no progress, there will be all shades; there will be black, white and shades of gray.»