Crunch talks on Cyprus unity resume in Switzerland


Mont Pelerin (Switzerland) (AFP)

Rival Cypriot leaders on Sunday resumed UN-backed talks on ending the island's 42-year-old division, with hopes of breakthrough high but a key territory dispute unsettled.

Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akinci were meeting at a luxury hotel in Mont Pelerin, a town on the shores of Lake Geneva, for the second time this month.

"Now the meeting starts," UN spokesman Aleem Siddique said at 0815 GMT, ushering journalists out of a room where the two delegations sat either side of a large table.

Experts say the meeting is the last best chance to reunify Cyprus, a Mediterranean island whose division remains one of the world's longest-running political disputes.

"It can go either way since there are still substantial differences. But they are clearly in the final phase of the talks," Hubert Faustmann, professor of history and political science at the University of Nicosia, told AFP.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.

Anastasiades and Akinci met in Mont Pelerin earlier this month, between November 7-11, to discuss potential territorial readjustments -- seen by analysts as the trickiest issue to resolve.

That round finished short of a deal but hopes are high that two more days of talks could produce a map of internal boundaries for a future federation of Greek- and Turkish-speaking states on the island.

- Redrawing the map -

"It sounds to me... as though they made a lot of progress last week and they are in the stage where one last burst of activity can really settle that," British High Commissioner in Cyprus Matthew Kidd told reporters on Friday.

"And I guess they wouldn't have agreed to go back this weekend if they did not think so too."

The Turkish invasion saw thousands of Greek and Turkish Cypriots displaced.

Territory is an intractable problem for the talks, since any agreement would inevitably involve a redrawing of existing boundaries and see members of both communities ousted from their current homes.

The leaders are said to be close on the percentage of territory to be governed under Turkish Cypriot jurisdiction, with Akinci suggesting 29.2 percent and the Greek Cypriots proposing 28 percent.

The sticking point is which towns and villages come within those boundaries.

Anastasiades wants the return of the once Greek Cypriot town of Morphou -- currently in the Turkish-controlled north -- but Akinci has said he will not countenance a deal that would see its 18,000 Turkish Cypriot residents uprooted a second time.

The UN and outgoing Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have staked much on solving the Cyprus conundrum. A statement at the conclusion of talks earlier this month said "significant progress" had been achieved but without providing details.

- Next hurdle? Security -

Territorial negotiations this week aim to pave the way for multi-party talks between Cypriot leaders and the three main outside powers -- Greece, Turkey and former colonial ruler Britain.

Kidd said Britain was willing to help organise a conference on security -- the next hurdle to overcome once territory is settled.

But further potential sticking points remain.

Turkish Cypriots insist on Turkey maintaining its right to intervene militarily -- a notion Greek Cypriots flatly reject. The presence of around 30,000 Turkish troops has also yet to be broached.

"Security guarantees and the question of a Turkish base on the island will be the final issues to be addressed," Faustmann said.

Anastasiades and Akinci have been among the most outspoken proponents of a deal, but any breakthrough must be put to a referendum in their respective communities.

In 2004, Turkish Cypriot voters approved a UN-drafted peace blueprint, but it was resoundingly rejected by Greek Cypriots.