The leaders of the Greek and Turkish communities on Cyprus have today (11 February) restarted talks on reunifying the divided island. The resumption of talks follows a freeze of 18 months.
Nicos Anastasiades, the president of the Republic of Cyprus and leader of the Greek Cypriots, met Derviş Eroğlu, the leader of the Turkish community, in the United Nations-administered buffer zone that divides the capital, Nicosia, into two parts.
The two leaders issued a joint statement reaffirming their determination to end the island’s division. Turkey has been in control of about one-third of Cyprus since 1974, when it invaded following a coup attempt by officers seeking unification with Greece. Relations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots deteriorated quickly following independence from Britain in 1960.
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The statement reads in part: “The status quo is unacceptable and its prolongation will have negative consequences for the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. The leaders affirmed that a settlement would have a positive impact on the entire region, while first and foremost benefiting Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots, respecting democratic principles, human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as each other’s distinct identity and integrity and ensuring their common future in a united Cyprus within the European Union.”
The statement reiterates the two sides’ commitment to the creation of a “bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with political equality” with “a single, international legal personality and a single sovereignty… which emanates equally from Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots”. It says that there will be a single Cyprus citizenship as well as citizenship of the Greek-Cypriot and the Turkish-Cypriot constituent states.
The talks broke off in mid-2012 after several years of negotiations on a possible settlement, begun by the two leaders’ predecessors. The earlier talks produced a number of so-called ‘convergences’ in the six issue areas into which the negotiations have been split, on governance and power-sharing, EU matters, security and guarantees, territory, property, and economic matters.
José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, and Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, welcomed the new talks. “The European Commission is keen to play its part in supporting the negotiations, conducted under UN auspices, and to offer all the support the parties and the UN find most useful,” they said. “The European Union also supports the efforts to reach an agreement between the two parties on a package of confidence-building measures which can help to create momentum towards a settlement to the benefit of Cypriot people. The European Union stands ready to look creatively at how to contribute to this objective in the prospects of a final settlement.”
Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the UN, welcomed the resumption of talks and announced that Alexander Downer, a former foreign minister of Australia who had been his special envoy for the talks, would be stepping down.
Last week, the Turkish Cypriots announced the return of Kudret Özersay as chief negotiator, in what observers say is a signal that they are serious about a settlement. Özersay’s opposite number on the Greek side is Andreas Mavroyiannis, Cyprus’s former ambassador to the EU.