Tassos Papadopoulos, the Cypriot president, and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat are expected to discuss the fate of people missing in past violent conflicts on Monday, but diplomats say it is the meeting itself that marks a turning point.

A Nicosia-based diplomat said: "This is a highly significant meeting, breaking two years marked by the absence of dialogue between the two leaders, and at the very least it may break the ice."

The two leaders will meet in a United Nations compound overlooking the partitioned capital, Nicosia.

Split since a Turkish invasion in 1974 after a brief Greek-inspired coup, the Cyprus conflict has defied repeated United Nations-led peace efforts and is threatening to derail Turkey's EU accession efforts while fanning Greek-Turkish animosity.

Meanwhile, the international community wants progress on the ground before another peace plan is put to the test, after the last re-unification blueprint was rejected in a 2004 referendum.

Poor relations

Although the two men will discuss the 2,000 people missing from the 1974 invasion and other conflicts, diplomats hope to get more from the two leaders during the meeting.

"It's clear... that [Cypriot leader] Papadopoulos is really not interested in being drawn into full-scale negotiations at this point"

James Ker-Lindsay, political analyst

One Western diplomat working on the issue said: "There are hopes that they will discuss issues above and beyond the issue of the missing persons." 

Relations between the two sides deteriorated further after Greek Cypriots rejected the UN peace plan and subsequently entered the EU in the name of the whole island.

Poorer Turkish Cypriots approved the plan but continued to live in political isolation.

'Breaking the ice'

Now, diplomats hope a new round of reunification talks could help to avoid a looming Turkey-EU crisis.

Turkey faces the threat of disruption to its talks on EU entry if it fails to open its ports and airports to Cypriot traffic by the end of this year.

Some political observers said that while Monday's meeting is significant in itself, they were not overly optimistic for the resumption of talks soon.

Political analyst James Ker-Lindsay said: "I think it's clear from all the indications that Papadopoulos has given that he is really not interested in being drawn into full-scale negotiations at this point.

"I don't really think it is going to break the ice ... That ice is pretty thick."