Rival Cyprus leaders begin talks

Cyprus leaders launched talks today seen as the best chance in decades to reunite their divided island and end a conflict threatening Turkey's EU membership hopes.

Cypriot President Demetris Christofias, representing the Greek Cypriot community, and Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat, who met in the no man's land dividing their capital Nicosia, represent what diplomats and analysts say is the first opportunity for a breakthrough in years.

"We must, at long last, put an end to the suffering of our people and reunite our country," Christofias told reporters as he headed for the meeting.

The partitioned status of Cyprus is a headache for the EU. Effectively represented in the bloc by its Greek Cypriots, the island has veto rights over the membership bid of Turkey, a key western ally in the Middle East.

Analysts agree this is the best chance for a solution not least because the two leaders come from leftist parties and, unlike previous negotiators, have little to do with the roots of the island's violent conflict.

"It is widely believed that if these two moderates can't solve it, nobody can," said Hubert Faustmann, a Cyprus-based analyst.

Christofias's presidential election victory in February over Tassos Papadopoulos, who led Greek Cypriots in rejecting a UN reunification plan in 2004, marked a turning point in the dispute that has frustrated mediators since 1974.

'Determination'

"It is our responsibility and determination to find an early settlement for the Cyprus problem by the end of the year, negotiating constructively and positively in order to live up to expectations and to turn our island into one of peaceful co-existence," Talat said.

The two moderate leaders met in the presence of former Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, appointed U.N. special envoy for Cyprus in July, at a compound which was once the island's main commercial airport.

"There will likely be further difficulties and challenges ahead. At the same time, the Cyprus problem is not insurmountable and the negotiations which will begin today can and must have a successful outcome," Downer told the two leaders in televised comments at the start of the meeting.

When talks start in earnest next week, they will move to what were once the arrival and departure terminals. Bearing witness to past violence, the bullet-riddled shell of an old jet sits on a nearby runway overgrown with weeds.

Divided since a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup, the two sides have agreed to reunite as a bizonal bicommunal federation - but not on how. A key dispute is the unrecognised status of breakaway northern Cyprus, and how to reintegrate it in a federation.

But a deal is unlikely to come as early as Talat hopes, and will also hinge on how it is promoted in the communities, which must approve it in simultaneous referendums, analysts said. A U.N. plan failed in 2004 when Greek Cypriots voted against it.

"The atmosphere on the ground is polarised. They will have to work hard to transfer the positive climate to the people," said Mete Hatay, an analyst at the PRIO peace institute.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
News
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower