Cyprus peace deal hangs in the balance

Cyprus peace deal hangs in the balance

Cyprus peace deal hangs in the balance

AFP photo

Rival Cypriot leaders resumed U.N.-backed talks yesterday aimed at resolving four decades of division on the Mediterranean island with hopes of a breakthrough high but a key territory dispute unsettled.

Seen by experts as the last best chance to reunify Cyprus, the make-or-break discussions in Switzerland could lead to a multi-billion-euro deal or scupper prospects of solving one of the world’s longest-running political problems.

“It can go either way since there are still substantial differences. But they are clearly in the final phase of the talks,” Hubert Faustmann, professor of history and political science at the University of Nicosia, told AFP.

Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akıncı spent five days this month in the Swiss resort of Mont Pelerin discussing potential territorial readjustments -- seen by analysts as the trickiest issue to resolve. That round finished short of a deal but it is hoped that two more days of talks could produce a map of internal boundaries for a future federation of Greek- and Turkish-speaking states on the island. “It sounds to me... as though they made a lot of progress last week and they are in the stage where one last burst of activity can really settle that,” British High Commissioner in Cyprus Matthew Kidd told reporters on Nov. 18.

“And I guess they wouldn’t have agreed to go back this weekend if they did not think so too.”

Territory is an intractable problem for the talks, since any agreement would inevitably involve a redrawing of existing boundaries and see members of both communities ousted from their current homes.

The leaders are said to be close on the percentage of territory to be governed under Turkish Cypriot jurisdiction, with Akıncı suggesting 29.2 percent and the Greek Cypriots proposing 28 percent. The sticking point is which towns and villages come within those boundaries. Anastasiades wants the once Greek Cypriot town of Morphou -- currently in the Turkish-controlled north -- returned, but Akıncı has said he will not countenance a deal that would see its 18,000 Turkish Cypriot residents uprooted a second time.

The U.N. and outgoing Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have staked much on solving the Cyprus conundrum.

A statement at the conclusion of talks this month said that “significant progress has been achieved,” without providing details.

Territorial negotiations this week aim to pave the way for multi-party talks between Cypriot leaders and the three main outside powers -- Greece, Turkey and former colonial ruler Britain. Kidd said Britain was willing to help organize a conference on security -- the next hurdle to overcome once territory is settled.

“We very much hope it can work and we will be looking to the leaders to explain to us how they want us to play our part,” he said.

But further potential sticking points remain in a process that has repeatedly proven unsolvable over more than 40 years.

Turkish Cypriots insist on Turkey maintaining its right to intervene militarily -- a notion Greek Cypriots flatly reject. The presence of around 30,000 Turkish troops has also yet to be broached.

“Security guarantees and the question of a Turkish base on the island will be the final issues to be addressed,” according to Faustmann.

Anastasiades and Akıncı have been among the most outspoken proponents of a deal, but any breakthrough must be put to a referendum in their respective communities.

In 2004, Turkish Cypriot voters approved a U.N.-drafted peace blueprint, but it was resoundingly rejected by Greek Cypriots.