EU, U.N. push gives Cyprus talks urgency

June 30, 2011 at 6:22 AM
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NICOSIA, Cyprus, June 30 (UPI) -- Greek and Turkish Cypriot negotiators met this week with increased urgency to find a solution to unify the island after 45 years of fruitless talks.

Dimitris Christofias, president of the Republic of Cyprus, and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu were set to hold a meeting Thursday held by Liza Buttenheim, the special representative of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in the run-up to what some analysts say could be a make-or-break July 7 summit with Ban in Geneva.

The two leaders also met last week in a session that focused on governance and power-sharing, U.N. officials said.

Pressure on Christofias to reach an agreement on key sticking points in the long-running reunification talks is increasing as Cyprus approaches its EU presidency in 2012.

The latest negotiations also come two weeks after the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution condemning the slow pace of the reunification efforts while extending the mandate of its 1,000 peacekeeping troops there until December.

The United Nations has had peacekeeping troops in Cyprus since 1964, 10 years before Turkey deployed military forces there in reaction to a coup backed by Athens that briefly toppled Archbishop Makarios III as president. Turkey seized control of roughly the eastern third of the island in a bid to create a safe haven for the island's Turkish population.

Indications are mounting Ban may be considering ending the U.N. mission there after December unless the Greek and Turkish sides show real progress on talks soon, according to former Cyprus government spokesman Michalis Papapetrou.

He told the Cyprus Mail newspaper there was a very real danger the United Nations would quit the island and withdraw its peacekeeping force should the talks fail.

"They have already warned us," Papapetrou said. "They've already minimized (the peacekeepers') duties and presence to the absolute minimum. If they do withdraw, we'll be faced with a very different situation."

Without the blue-helmeted peacekeepers, he warned, minor incidents in the island's buffer zone could create a hostile climate that would undermine Cyprus' aspirations to become a financial services hub.

The newspaper also quoted an unnamed EU diplomat who said he was convinced the United Nations was "fed up" with the slow pace of the talks and is seeking to set up a "point of truth where if there is no agreement, they draw a line under it as early as this autumn."

"If they do reach agreement, then prepare for the next stage of referenda," he said.

Another motivator is what appears to be trepidation in EU capitals about Cyprus taking over the presidency with its reunification conflict unresolved.

U.N. envoy Alexander Downer was quoted by the Greek-language daily newspaper Alithia as saying Ban will demand a new set of intensive talks and will need to be convinced Christofias and Eroglu can find a resolution before the Cyprus presidency begins in June 2012.

Meanwhile, British Minister for Europe David Lidington met Tuesday with Cyprus Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou and was asked by reporters if he, too, felt a reunification resolution was necessary by 2012.

Lidington said he "certainly believes that it would be better if a solution could be reached before Cyprus' presidency," a Cyprus Foreign Ministry news release said.

"Not just for political reasons, but also for the ordinary families who continue to be affected to this day by the division of Cyprus," Lidington said. "The sooner that a settlement can be reached the better it will be for the sense of justice and the mutual prosperity of the communities in Cyprus. We wish for success to the talks."

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