[QODLink]
Europe
Cypriot leaders begin peace talks
Greek Cypriot president and Turkish Cypriot leader attempt to end 34-year dispute.
Last Modified: 03 Sep 2008 17:13 GMT

Alexander Downer, left, said the negotiations 'must have a successful outcome' [AFP]

Talks on the reunification of Cyprus have begun between Demetris Christofias, the Greek Cypriot president, and Mehmet Ali Talat, the Turkish Cypriot leader.

Both men are seen as pro-settlement moderates and after three decades of failed diplomacy there is considerable optimism that a deal may be reached.

Alexander Downer, the UN secretary-general's special envoy to Cyprus, said: "Today is an historic day for Cyprus."

Downer said "significant progress" had been made to build confidence and create a solid foundation for the negotiations, which mark the first intensive push for peace on the island since a failed UN plan in 2004.

"There have been difficult moments over the past months and there will likely be further difficulties and challenges ahead.

"At the same time, the Cyprus problem is not insurmountable and the negotiations which begin today can and must have a successful outcome," he said.

Power-sharing

Barnaby Phillips, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Nicosia, the Cyprus capital, said there are still big potential problems that the two leaders need to settle, such as the restoration of property rights and the exact details of power-sharing.

He said: "More than 200,000 people mainly from the Greek side, lost their property during the fighting in 1974. Will they be allowed to go back to their homes? Will they be compensated?"

The Turkish minority is also concerned about whether foreign powers will still be allowed influence in the running of the island, he said.

"How will the two communities share power exactly in a way that enables the Turkish minority community to still feel secure? Will outside guarantors still be allowed some influence?"

"For the Greeks that's anathema... Whereas the Turkish minority feel some outside interference is vital for their security," Phillips said.

'Common will'

Wednesday's meeting, the fifth this year between the two leaders, will pave the way for substantive negotiations to begin on September 11, initially focusing on power-sharing.

Christofias and Talat are then expected to meet at least once a week.

The leaders have also agreed to set up a hotline so they can remain in constant telephone contact throughout the negotiations.

"We are confident that we will succeed in concluding an agreement and hopefully as soon as possible... and hopefully... this year," the Turkish Cypriot leader said.

"There is a common will and a common desire and a common effort to achieve this target," added Christofias.

The negotiation process has an open-ended timeline but the UN has warned that the talks cannot go on indefinitely without tangible progress.

Peace rally

The build-up to the talks had been clouded by the refusal of Turkish Cypriot authorities to allow Greek Cypriot pilgrims to travel via a town in the remote northwest of the island to attend a church service.

However, hundreds of Turkish and Greek Cypriot peace activists rallied on Monday night in the capital's buffer zone chanting for a reunified Cyprus.

Preparatory talks at committee level since March have been accompanied by confidence-building measures, notably the opening of a symbolic crossing in Ledra Street, which links the south and north of the island in the heart of old Nicosia.

It is the first intensive push for peace since a UN reunification plan was approved by Turkish Cypriots but overwhelmingly rejected by Greek Cypriots, just a week before the island joined the European Union in 2004.

Source:
Agencies
Topics in this article
People
Country
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
Italy struggles to deal with growing flood of migrants willing to risk their lives to reach the nearest European shores.
Israel's Operation Protective Edge is the third major offensive on the Gaza Strip in six years.
Muslims and Arabs in the US say they face discrimination in many areas of life, 13 years after the 9/11 attacks.
At one UN site alone, approximately four children below the age of five are dying each day.
Featured
The conservative UMP party suffers from crippling internal divisions and extreme debt from mismanagement.
More than fifty years of an armed struggle for independence from Spain might be coming to an end in the Basque Country.
After the shooting-down of flight MH17, relatives ask what the carrier has learned from still-missing MH370.
Human rights and corporate responsibility prompt a US church to divest from companies doing business with Israel.
Afghan militias have accumulated a lengthy record of human-rights abuses, including murders and rapes.
join our mailing list