Representatives from the two sections of Cyprus are set to meet in the coming days in what a senior United Nations official has described as a “historic opportunity” to reunite the divided island.
The Cyprus talks are scheduled from January 9 to 11 at the United Nations Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.
The talks are to continue at a high-level conference on January 12 attended by the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mustafa Akinci, the Greek Cypriot leader, Nicos Anastasiades, and the Special Advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide.
The special adviser wrote in the Cyprus Weekly newspaper recently that Anastasiades and Akinci had shown willingness to end the conflict.
“The choice now is very much about using this opportunity, or losing it,” Eide said about the upcoming talks.
“We are of course only planning for success, but I think we have to be frank… the inability to solve it this time will not mean that we have another chance in three months… one year or five years, we don’t know,” the Norwegian said.
Earlier talks in November 2016 between the two leaders saw little result.
If all goes well, the two Cypriot leaders will be joined by representatives of Britain, Greece and Turkey.
The five-way talks will be “open-ended” to give negotiators ample time, said Eide.
Cyprus was divided into two separate parts in 1974 after Greece launched a military coup on the island, prompting Turkey to send in its military forces.
Some 800,000 Greek Cypriots and approximately 220,000 Turkish Cypriots live on each side of the divided island split by a buffer zone patrolled by United Nations peacekeepers, where a “no man’s land” full of abandoned homes, shops, hotels and other buildings lies empty.
Peace efforts between the leaders of the two sides of the Mediterranean island have helped slightly improve diplomatic relations, but a final solution remains impossible to achieve.
A main bone of contention is which territory is to be controlled by whom in the future. Another one is how many Greek Cypriots can return to the homes they fled from on the other side when Turkish troops entered the island to stop the Greece-led coup.
“It is not going to be easy… a lot of work has to be done to reconcile the established opening positions,” Eide said, adding, however, that the “possibilities are higher than they ever were” for finding a solution to the decades-long dispute.