NICOSIA - Daily News with wires
Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders are set to meet to launch a crucial second round of their peace talks aimed at reunifying the divided island after a row over an annual pilgrimage sparked Greek postponement. The general picture is not bad, even quite good, the Turkish Cypriot leader says as a group of statesmen visit the war-divided island in a show of support
Rival Cypriot leaders are set to open a key second phase of reunification talks today after a row over an annual pilgrimage prompted a U.N. envoy to urge both sides to refocus on the prize of peace.
The talks, which Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat says have made "quite good" progress, were delayed by a week after controversy over the route that Greek Cypriot pilgrims were to take to attend an annual celebration in the Turkish Cypriot-run north. Talat and his Greek counterpart Dimitris Christofias are expected to meet at the buffer zone in Nicosia to discuss “federal administration,” which has reportedly seen no signal of agreement between the sides, reported Anatolia news agency.
The two presidents had been due to launch the second phase of peace talks on Sept. 3, exactly one year after they began.
The annual pilgrimage to Morphou, or Güzelyurt in Turkish, is one of a number of longstanding confidence measures intended to boost efforts to end the island's 35-year division. It is matched by a Turkish Cypriot visit to graves in the Kokkina, or Erenköy, enclave, which is entirely surrounded by territory held by the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government. Turkish Cypriot officials said the Greek Cypriot group had failed to follow necessary procedures for crossing the border.
Bump in the road
"There's been a bump in the road here, but it will be good to get back to the talks," Agence France-Presse quoted U.N. Envoy Alexander Downer as telling reporters last Friday after the Greek Cypriot postponement.
"There's a lot at stake here, there's the future of Cyprus at stake here, so this is not a small matter. This is a very big issue, a very serious issue," the former Australian foreign minister said.
The two sides have held 40 rounds of U.N.-brokered peace talks since the negotiations resumed amid great fanfare last year, but little visible progress has been made. The last major peace push collapsed in 2004 when a U.N. reunification plan was backed by Turkish Cypriots in a referendum but rejected by Greek Cypriots.
On the eve of the resumption of talks, Talat said, "The general picture is not bad, even quite good."
"During the first phase, we reached some compromise in general, but we did not finish everything. We left the full convergence to be reached in the second, third or maybe fourth phases," he told AFP in an interview.
Talat said the property issue was "the most controversial subject," while "good progress" had been made on power-sharing, the economy and EU affairs. Territorial issues had to be left to the final phase.
"The map has to be left to the end," he said. "Since we are going to make adjustments, give some territories to the Greek Cypriots say, the people living there will be extremely disturbed without indications of a [full] solution."
Christofias has told AFP he wants to see swifter progress when the second round kicks off. "One should not create artificial progress or be over-optimistic about the talks. It would also be wrong to say that everything is black. We have achieved some progress but not the ones I was expecting," he said.
In a support role, a group of international statesmen known as "The Elders" including former U.N. Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi are due to visit the island on a second such mission for talks with Talat and Christofias on Friday. Former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Brundtland and the Elders' CEO, Mabel van Oranje, are due to accompany Brahimi.