Cyprus leaders start week of crunch peace talks

by Reuters
Monday, 9 January 2017 04:38 GMT

* Cyprus leaders to start week of intensive peace talks

* U.N. sees talks as an 'historic opportunity' for island

* Cyprus was split between Turkey and Greece in 1974

GENEVA, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Leaders of ethnically split Cyprus are scheduled to launch a week of intensive talks from Monday to reach the outline of a peace deal to end decades of division.

Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades were to meet at the United Nations' European headquarters in Geneva for three full days of discussions.

The talks would subsequently broaden to include other nations with a stake on the strategically placed island on Thursday.

New U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who was expected to attend the conference on Thursday, has described the talks as an "historic opportunity" for a breakthrough.

Power-sharing, redrawing property boundaries and security issues in a future reunited homeland are key sticking points in negotiations that have resulted in logjams in the past.

However, mediators are keen to capitalise on the momentum of two moderates at the helm of their communities before domestic election cycles dislodge the process.

"We must be cautious. We are not pessimistic, but I see no need for exaggerated expectations that everything will just happen. We are expecting a difficult week," Akinci said on Sunday.

Cyprus's Greek and Turkish Cypriots have lived estranged since 1974, when Turkey invaded the island's north after a brief Greek-inspired coup. The seeds of partition were sown years earlier soon after independence from Britain in 1960.

Today, the island of just over one million inhabitants is split with Turkish Cypriots in the north and Greek Cypriots in the south, separated by one of the world's oldest U.N. peacekeeping forces.

The status of some 30,000 Turkish troops stationed in Cyprus's north is crucial. The Greek side insists they must all be pulled out, while the Turkish side says some must remain.

That issue will dominate discussions between Britain, Turkey and Greece on Thursday. The three are guarantor powers of Cyprus under a 1960 treaty that granted the former colony independence.

Any agreement must be put to separate referendums in the two communities, with diplomats anticipating a vote around June. A previous peace blueprint put to referendum in 2004 was accepted by Turkish Cypriots but rejected by Greek Cypriots. (Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Paul Tait)

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