'Significant progress' in Cyprus reunification talks: mediator

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Athens (AFP)

Talks to achieve an elusive reunification deal for the divided island of Cyprus have made "significant progress" but important unresolved issues remain, a UN mediator said Tuesday.

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

"We've made significant progress on some of the most difficult issues of the last weeks and months," said UN peace envoy Espen Barth Eide.

Hopes have grown for a peace deal since leaders in the Greek Cypriot south and Turkish Cypriot-held north resumed UN-brokered negotiations in May, with meetings intensifying in recent months to their highest level in years.

Eide, however, said "there are still significant outstanding issues that have to be tackled".

They include "security and guarantees and what will be done in the future, how Cypriots can live in security."

Yet meetings are "happening with increasing frequency" between Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and his Greek Cypriot counterpart Nicos Anastasiades.

Eide noted we are "living in a time now of severe geopolitical turbulence" -- including confrontations involving Syria, Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

However, he said "this is the real moment to find the final solution to the problem that is many decades old."

The envoy pointed to the symbolic progress in negotiations demonstrated by a video message published at Christmas from Akinci and Anastasiades in which the leaders wish, each in the other's language, for reunification in 2016.

"The ambition is that Cyprus will be a unified European country and that's why we have involved much more than previously the EU," said Eide.

A UN-controlled buffer zone -- the "Green Line" -- runs across the island and through Nicosia, Europe's last divided capital, separating the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) from the Republic of Cyprus.