Divided Cypriots strain the patience of peace-keepers: Despite UN mediation, one of the longest-running ethnic conflicts in Europe is proving as intractable as ever, writes Leonard Doyle in New York

DESPITE high hopes of a settlement and a news black-out on the participants in United Nations peace talks on Cyprus, all the signs are that one of the longest- running ethnic conflicts in Europe is proving to be as intractable as ever and that the negotiations are foundering.

As a laboratory for ending ethnic conflict, Cyprus has been a failure despite endless rounds of patient diplomacy. It has also been a costly struggle for the international community, which has spent many millions of dollars for an international peace-keeping force on the island.

Some of the troop contributors - Denmark, Canada and Austria - have wondered aloud about the wisdom of devoting scarce and expensive peace-keeping resources to the wealthy little island, when other less fortunate parts of the world are screaming for UN assistance. Britain, with its sovereign bases in Cyprus, is determined to stay, but is just as keen to see progress at the New York talks.

The omens for the latest round of talks were good when they began in New York on 15 July, with the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, indicating that he would conduct the talks 'until they are successful'. But like so many previous false dawns in the 24-year-old conflict between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, it now appears that it will take more than the 'good offices' talks of the UN to persuade the leaders of each community to make concessions.

For the moment, it is Rauf Denktash, the veteran leader of the Turkish Cypriots, who is holding up the talks, by resisting UN proposals to give up large areas of territory, in return for an equal say in the administration of a new federated Cyprus. The 150,000 Turkish Cypriots control 37 per cent of the island and the UN plan calls for them to keep 29 per cent. Mr Denktash is ready to cede control of this territory, but is digging his heels in over the town of Morphu, and more importantly the prime citrus-growing region which surrounds it.

The five permanent members of the Security Council - Britain, the US, France, China and Russia - have already taken Mr Denktash aside for a warning about his unco-operative stand in the talks. Pressure has also been brought to bear on Turkey - the only country in the world to recognise the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus - to get Mr Denktash to be more flexible.

If Mr Denktash gives way on territory, the focus will then turn to George Vassiliou, the Greek Cypriot President, who has brought representatives from all political factions to New York, to be a party to any decisions.