Switzerland conference offers ‘historic opportunity’ for Cyprus

Switzerland conference offers ‘historic opportunity’ for Cyprus

© AFP | A picture taken on April 7, 2017 shows vegetation growing on a barrier made up of barrels on the “Green Line”, a UN-controlled buffer zone in the divided Cypriot capital Nicosia

(France24.com) — NICOSIA (AFP) – A conference in Switzerland starting later this month offers an “historic opportunity” for rival Cypriot leaders to clinch an elusive deal to end their island’s decades-old division, a UN envoy said Friday.

 “This is really an historic opportunity. We all know that it’s going to be difficult when we are there,” Espen Barth Eide said after talks in Nicosia with President Nicos Anastasiades, the Greek Cypriot leader.

“A lot of work that has to be done before we go there, because we don?t want to come there empty-handed.”

The Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders are to resume UN-led reunification talks on June 28 in Crans Montana, Switzerland.

Eide said in the Alpine ski resort could last weeks.

“We are facilitating this (in) such a way that it can last for weeks ? it doesn?t have to take weeks, it depends on the time needed.”

The Norwegian diplomat is compiling a document which will guide the discussions on post-settlement security arrangements and other outstanding issues.

Guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and Britain will also attend the conference, as will a representative of the European Union as an observer.

The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.

Turkey maintains some 35,000 troops in the north of the island.

Anastasiades, who heads the island’s internationally recognised government, and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akinci are expected to make concessions on core issues that haven’t been made before.

Negotiations have focused on creating a new federation in Cyprus but disagreements over the return of property and power-sharing have yet to be fully resolved.

First on the agenda in Switzerland will be the post-settlement security arrangement for a federal Cyprus.

Much of the progress until now has been based on the strong personal rapport between Anastasiades and Akinci, leader of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

But in recent months, some of that goodwill has appeared frayed.

The Greek Cypriot side seek the withdrawal of Turkish troops to be discussed at the conference as part of security arrangements.

But the Turkish Cypriots want the conference to focus on broader issues of power-sharing, property rights and territory for the creation of a new federation.

The United Nations, which has 950 peacekeepers serving in Cyprus, could have some oversight role to implement any new security arrangements.

After a UN reunification blueprint was rejected by Greek Cypriots in a 2004 referendum, Cyprus joined the EU still a divided island, with the TRNC recognised only by Turkey.

Any Cyprus peace accord will have to be put to a new vote.