Cyprus leaders are holding key peace talks in Geneva, with the UN and senior diplomats voicing optimism that a reunification deal is within reach.
The foreign ministers of Greece, Turkey and the UK are involved – the countries that act as Cyprus security guarantors.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim is not going to the talks, despite an earlier report that he would attend.
The Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot communities have been split since 1974. A UN buffer zone divides them.
In 1974 Turkish troops invaded, following a coup by Greek Cypriots backed by the generals ruling Greece at the time.
For a deal to take effect it would have to win the support of both Cypriot communities in separate referendums.
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the talks “offer both sides a unique opportunity to find a solution”.
The UN, overseeing the negotiations, says it is the best chance to reunify the island after four decades of division.
The goal is for the two sides to share power in a two-state federation.
The Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot leaders – Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci – on Wednesday exchanged maps proposing territorial boundaries.
It was the first time they had done so, according to the UN, and was hailed as an important advance towards a deal.
New UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is attending the talks in Geneva, his first foreign trip in the role.
What are the sticking points?
Property: What should happen to the properties that Greek Cypriots had to abandon in 1974? Should they get the right to take their old homes back, or be compensated – and if so by how much?
Security: How can the security of the Turkish Cypriots be guaranteed if Turkey’s estimated 30,000 troops leave? Greek Cypriots see them as an occupying force, so should some stay or should Turkey retain the right to intervene?
Who would act as a guarantor of the deal? The EU, of which Cyprus is already a member, or the UK, which has two military bases on the island?
Power and the role of the EU: There is talk of a rotating presidency, but how would that work? And could a Turkish Cypriot president really represent the country from time-to-time at EU summits?
Territory: How much more territory should Greek Cypriots gain to reflect the fact that they make up the majority of the island’s population? UN peacekeeping forces estimate that 165,000 Greek Cypriots fled or were expelled from the north, and 45,000 Turkish Cypriots from the south, although the parties to the conflict say the figures are higher.
Turkey still has 30,000 troops stationed in the island’s north.
Britain, Turkey and Greece are guarantors of Cyprus’s independence, which means they can step in if necessary to restore constitutional order.
Reaching a deal is possible, says Espen Barth Eide, the UN special adviser on Cyprus, though he cautioned that “some of the most complicated and emotional issues” remained outstanding.
While it is unlikely that a “comprehensive settlement” will be agreed in these talks, diplomats and negotiators “will go home with a sense that it is coming”, he told reporters.
He said there was “still a lot of work to be done to reconcile positions” over the continued presence of foreign troops in Cyprus.
“It’s the question of the guarantee system, whether the outside powers have a continued right to intervene in the internal affairs of the Cypriot state,” he told the BBC.
The maps presented on Wednesday, and now locked in a UN vault, will form the basis for future discussions on boundaries dividing zones in a federal Cyprus.
Troubled history of Cyprus – key dates
- 1955 – Greek Cypriots seeking unification with Greece begin guerrilla war against British rule
- 1960 – Independence from British rule leads to power-sharing between Greek Cypriot majority and Turkish Cypriot minority
- 1963 and 1964 – inter-communal violence
- 1974 – Cypriot President, Archbishop Makarios, deposed in a coup backed by Greece’s military junta – Turkey sends troops to the island, who then occupy a third of it in the north
- 1983 – Rauf Denktash declares breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Turkey
- 2004 – Cyprus, still divided, joins the EU, after a UN peace plan was backed by Turkish Cypriots but rejected by Greek Cypriots. [Source:- BBC]