Cyprus leaders meet as peace talks resume

Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders agree on confidence building measures as peace talks resume to reunite the divided island

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

The leaders of the Turkish and Greek communities of Cyprus met on Friday for the resumption of peace talks following a seven-month hiatus.

Newly elected Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akinci was brought together with his Greek Cypriot counterpart Nicos Anastasiades by UN envoy Espen Barth Eide in the buffer zone of the island’s divided capital Nicosia.

The island of Cyprus has been ethnically divided since a military coup by the Greek junta in a bid to unite the island with Greece in July 1974 led to Turkey exercising its right under the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee to conduct a military intervention in the island.

Almost a decade after Turkey secured the northern third of the island and a population exchange between Turkish Cypriots in the south and Greek Cypriots in the north, failure to reach an agreement with the Greek Cypriots to restore the constitutional government led to the Turkish Cypriots declaring the independence of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) - which is only recognised by Turkey.

After the meeting, UN envoy Eide said the two leaders had “underscored their shared will to reach a comprehensive settlement” and would meet at least twice a month.

Friday’s meeting began with confidence building measures, with Greek Cypriot leader Anastasiades disclosing the coordinates of 28 minefields in the north of the island, while Turkish Cypriot President Akinci announced the lifting of form-filling for people crossing the seven checkpoints along the north-south border.

The resumption of talks was hailed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who in a statement read out by his spokesman called on the two leaders to “seize this opportunity to achieve tangible progress towards a comprehensive settlement that would clearly benefit both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots."

Earlier this week, the Foreign Ministers of both Turkey and Greece praised the renewed efforts to reunify Cyprus during a meeting on Tuesday.

"We have good reason to be optimistic," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said. "This opportunity that we have needs to be put into good use."

Window of opportunity

A number of attempts were made to restore the constitution since the 1974 war, with the latest case being a referendum in 2004 prior to the Greek Cypriot administration’s accession to the EU.

While 64.9 percent of Turkish Cypriots voted to reunite the island, which would have secured the withdrawal of Turkish troops, 75.8 percent of Greek Cypriots voted against reunification.

Despite the failure of the plan proposed by then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, talks continued until they were suspended in 2012 when the Greek Cypriot administration took over the EU presidency.

Negotiations resumed two years later in February 2014 when former Turkish Cypriot president Dervis Eroglu issued a joint statement with his Greek Cypriot counterpart vowing to work for a UN-backed peace deal that will see the island united as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.

Talks were later stalled again when Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades withdrew from negotiations last October after Turkey sent its Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa seismic vessel to the island’s waters to search for hydrocarbon reserves.

The deployment of the vessel came on the same day joint Italian-South Korean energy consortium Eni-Kogas began drilling for hydrocarbon reserves in the Greek Cypriots’ declared Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Turkey, which does not recognise the Greek Cypriot administration, had warned against drilling before a deal between the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots is achieved.

However, the withdrawal of the Eni-Kogas consortium from island’s waters earlier in April allowed Turkey to also withdraw its ship, thus presenting a window of opportunity for the talks to restart.

TRTWorld and agencies