Slow Cyprus talks dampen euphoria

November 16, 2008, Sunday/ 13:16:00
Initial hopes that one of the world's most intractable disputes might finally be solved have dissipated in Cyprus as peace talks enter their third month.

The now-weekly discussions between Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat have yielded the sobering realization that a tough slog still lies ahead of any breakthrough, despite the exuberance that greeted the resumption of negotiations in September after a four-year stalemate.

The two are to meet again on Monday.

"It's a long-standing problem, it has many different facets and you wouldn't expect it to be solved overnight," said Alexander Downer, the former Australian foreign minister who is the U.N. special envoy to the talks.

Cyprus was ethnically split in 1974 when Turkey intervened in response to a coup by Athens-backed supporters of uniting the island with Greece. Since then, numerous attempts to reach a deal have failed, including the most comprehensive effort in 2004 when Greek Cypriots rejected -- while Turkish Cypriots approved -- a U.N. backed reunification blueprint.

But Christofias' February election, ousting a hardliner, boosted hopes for peace, and both leaders moved quickly to restart the peace process. In April, they reopened a busy shopping street in the heart of the divided capital, removing barricades that symbolized the estrangement of the two communities.

But the talks have not lived up to hopes of a swift agreement as both leaders confront the complexities of issues such as security guarantees and the thorny issue of property rights.

In nine meetings so far, Christofias and Talat have not moved beyond discussions on power-sharing under a future federation, and Christofias has said he doesn't see the power-sharing talks wrapping up before year's end.

"We must examine other chapters of the negotiations to be able to judge where we stand and how far we can go," government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said on Wednesday.

Talat has said the two sides are at odds over the division of executive power. Christofias' top aide George Iacovou said "some distance" separates the two sides over how federal government should function.

Turkish Cypriots seek a more devolved union to avoid domination by the majority Greek Cypriots who want a strong federal government to prevent any agreement from unraveling into permanent partition.

The U.N., seeking to keep things moving, is stressing that there is progress in the talks, despite more reserved Greek Cypriot assessments. But U.N. officials are cautious not to set any deadlines.

"I think obviously the process will go into 2009, but as long as momentum is sustained, they can achieve a good solution in the end," Downer said.

 

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