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Michele Kambas, Michele Kambas and Simon Bahceli21 Mar 2008 16:30
Leaders of Cyprus’s Greek and Turkish communities agreed on Friday to relaunch reunification talks and to open a barricaded street in Nicosia that symbolises the island’s division.
It was the first meeting between Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat since Christofias was elected to the Cypriot presidency last month and raised hopes for reviving talks that are also crucial for Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.
“The leaders have agreed to meet three months from now,” said Michael Moller, the United Nations special representative in Cyprus, who hosted the meeting between the two men at a UN controlled territory splitting Nicosia, Cyprus’s war-divided capital.
“The leaders have also agreed Ledra Street, as soon as technically possible, should open and function,” he added.
Greek and Turkish Cypriots have lived separately since a Turkish invasion in 1974 in response to a brief Greek-inspired coup. Peace efforts collapsed in 2004 when Greek Cypriots rejected a UN reunification blueprint accepted by Turkish Cypriots, and soon afterwards joined the European Union alone.
Analysts say this could now be the last chance to end the division, and diplomats fear an enduring stalemate would entrench partition, harming Turkey’s EU entry hopes and relations with Nato partner Greece.
Moller said the two sides had agreed to set up committees to discuss issues and the two leaders would then meet in three months to examine progress and then start full-fledged negotiations.
“It was the best possible result at this moment,” said political analyst Yannis Papadakis.
“They have agreed on the process.
Ledra, a main shopping street in the heart of medieval Nicosia, has been barricaded for about half a century. The wall was torn down in recent years but the street remains blocked due to controversy over military patrols in the area.
Decaying buildings in the buffer zone must be shored up and the area swept for mines before it can open to the public, a process that the United Nations say will take 10 to 15 days.
The two leaders were upbeat coming out of Moller’s house in the abandoned Nicosia airport compound.
“I look forward ... to having in three months’ time results which will help both of us have a dialogue under the auspices of the secretary general,” Christofias told reporters. “We have to be optimistic anyway and we agreed that we shall work together in good will.
Former president Tassos Papadopoulos, defeated last month, made little progress towards reunification in talks with Talat. Christofias has maintained closer ties with Turkish Cypriots and, like Talat, has a background in leftist political activism.
“This is a new era we are starting for the solution of the Cyprus problem. Our target is to find a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem as soon as possible,” Talat told reporters after the meeting.
The Greek Cypriots in the south represent Cyprus in the European Union and have the right to prevent Turkey from joining the bloc. - Reuters
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