Turkish and Greek Cypriots have reached a critical juncture in negotiations to end the decades-old division of their island and only a small number of issues remain to be resolved, the United Nations' envoy for Cyprus said yesterday.
The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974, when a Greek coup was followed by violence against the island's Turkish population and Turkey's intervention to protect them. "We are at a crossroads," U.N. Envoy Espen Barthe Eide told Reuters in an interview.
"I think the leaders know that we are at the crossroads and at the crossroads you have to take the right turn, or the alternative is the wrong turn," he added. Eide, a former Norwegian foreign minister, has been overseeing the talks between Greek Cypriot administration leader Nicos Anastasiades, and Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı for about two years.
Eide and his team facilitate the discussions between Anastasiades and Akıncı to reunite the island under a federal umbrella of two semi-autonomous zones.
He said there was "no doubt" that the two had come closer to a solution than ever before. But he was more cautious when asked whether he thought a peace plan could be agreed by the two sides and then put to a popular vote in a referendum this year, saying that depended on the leaders. "I believe it's possible. Whether it will happen, I think I will remain open. It's doable." Akıncı and Anastasiades have been involved in reunification talks to create a federal state since May 2015.
The leaders met several times in the Swiss city of Geneva last year. However, their last meeting ended on a sour note in February due to a Greek Cypriot assembly decision to introduce a school commemoration of the 1950 Enosis referendum on unification with Greece.
Akıncı said Anastasiades had walked out, "slammed the door and left" when U.N. envoy Espen Barth Eide and the Turkish Cypriot president expressed concern about the Enosis move. Anastasiades later insisted he had left the room during a break.
The Greek Cypriot assembly voted on Friday to shelve yearly public school Enosis commemorations.
"There are a relatively small number of outstanding issues, the vast majority is done," said Eide, whose office is within the compound of now-abandoned Nicosia airport, the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of the 1974 war.
Although the number is small, they are significant, he added.
Eide said the issues that still require resolution include finalizing the nature of the presidency that will govern Cyprus, a final deal on territorial adjustments, some property-related questions and security.
Greece, Turkey and Britain are guarantor powers under a 1960 treaty that granted the former British colony independence.Turkey insists 30,000 of its troops must remain on the island as part of Ankara's role as a guarantor power. "On that one I am quite optimistic, that's within reach," Eide said on the prospects of a deal on security.Although there is no timeframe for a settlement, Eide said it was understood that the process could not go on indefinitely.