UN-backed talks on Cyprus reunification gain momentum

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Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders discussed governance and power-sharing today as they prepare to meet with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon later this month in United Nations-sponsored talks aim

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Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders discussed governance and power-sharing today as they prepare to meet with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon later this month in United Nations-sponsored talks aimed at reunifying the Mediterranean island.

The Greek Cypriot leader, Dimitris Christofias, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Dervis Eroglu, will confer again at the end of next week before meeting in Geneva on 26 January with Mr. Ban, who has warned that the reunification talks, which began in 2008, could “founder fatally” if substantive agreement is not reached within the next few months.

“Both sides put forward some proposals, and both sides want to go away and consider the proposals that had been put forward,” the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Alexander Downer, told reporters after today’s talks in Nicosia, the capital, citing renewed momentum.

In a report to the Security Council last month, Mr. Ban warned that “a critical window of opportunity is rapidly closing” in the talks that seek to set up a federal government with a single international personality in a bi-zonal, bi-communal country, with a Turkish Cypriot constituent state and a Greek Cypriot constituent state of equal status.

He cited fundamental differences on property issues on the island – where a UN peacekeeping mission has been in place since inter-communal violence erupted in 1964 – noting that Greek-Cypriot parliamentary elections scheduled for May and elections in Turkey in June militate against constructive negotiations in the second quarter of 2011.

Mr. Downer said that it became clear last October that the whole process was starting to lose momentum, which was why Mr. Ban met with both leaders in New York the following month. “That momentum has very much been re-established,” Mr. Downer said. “I think since 18 November this whole process has had good momentum.”

Explaining the negotiating process, he said that when one of the sides puts forward a position that is accepted, a new position or a variation on the rejected position can be developed in what are sometimes called “bridging proposals, trying to bridge the differences between the two positions.

“That’s what we look to the two sides to do, and that’s what I call momentum. When they’re putting forward bridging proposals, they’re achieving convergences from time to time, not at every meeting necessarily, but from time to time, that’s momentum,” he added “Just sitting there exchanging views and failing to convince each other, that’s not momentum.”

The leaders have met 90 times since 2008, advancing in some areas, but there has been “a worrying lack of progress” in six months of talks on currently irreconcilable differences over property rights, Mr. Ban said in his report to the Council last month.

The Greek Cypriots say those with property in the north should be able to seek reinstatement, while Turkish Cypriots say that if all Greek Cypriot property owners there were allowed reinstatement, it would be impossible for the Turkish Cypriots to secure bizonality. They want a ceiling on the number of those who can have properties reinstated instead of compensation.

“We must be clear that, in order to negotiate successfully a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, the two leaders will have to reconcile these and other seemingly irreconcilable issues,” Mr. Ban said in his report. He called on Mr. Christofias and Mr. Eroglu to “dedicate significant efforts” to preparing a practical plan for overcoming major remaining points of disagreement when he confers with them in Geneva.

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