Cyprus: UN call to revive peace talks gets edgy welcome

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NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Both sides on ethnically divided Cyprus on Thursday welcomed the United Nation chief’s expressed intention to soon start thawing out a frozen peace process, but it’s still unclear whether that effort could lead to full-fledged reunification talks.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres repeated on Wednesday that he intends to convene an informal meeting of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders, as well as Cyprus’ ‘guarantor’ powers — Greece, Turkey and Britain — soon after a Turkish Cypriot leadership vote on Oct. 11.

Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup aimed at union with Greece. A breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the island’s northern third is recognized only by Turkey, which maintains more than 35,000 troops there.

Numerous rounds of talks over nearly five decades have led nowhere. The last attempt in 2017 collapsed in acrimony.

Guterres called for steps to boost confidence in the lead-up to the meeting, and urged involved parties to “avoid any unilateral actions that could undermine the future success” of talks.

“I’m totally committed to revitalise the political process,” Guterres said.

Cyprus’ internationally recognized, Greek Cypriot-led government hailed Guterres’ remarks. But deputy government spokesman Panayiotis Sentonas said negotiations can’t start while Turkey flouts international law by continuing an offshore hydrocarbons search inside Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone and threatens to settle Varosha, an abandoned suburb of the city of Famagusta situated in the breakaway north.

Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, who faces a strong challenge from candidates from the right and center-left, said on his official Facebook account that he remains resolute on achieving a peace accord.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said Guterres’ move doesn’t mean an “automatic” return to reunification talks.

“There exists no common ground and vision for a settlement between the two sides on the island,” Aksoy said.

Aksoy said Turkey wouldn’t take part in a new round of talks if Greek Cypriots don’t pre-emptively agree to equally share decision-making powers with the minority Turkish Cypriots on all levels of an envisioned federal government. He said the alternative would be to start talks on a two-state deal.

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