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UN makes new bid to break Cyprus impasse

UN makes new bid to break Cyprus impasse

The United Nations will make a new attempt next week to break a deadlock over ethnically split Cyprus as peace talks crucial to Turkey's bid to join the European Union close in on a deadline.

January 22, 2012 11:29 by

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will meet the partitioned island’s rival leaders in New York on Jan. 23 and 24 to discuss progress in peace talks launched in 2008.

Mediators want a deal ending decades of separation between ethnic Greeks and Turks on the Mediterranean island before Greek Cypriots, who represent the whole island internationally, take over the EU presidency in July.

“It’s hard to see how it (the process) can go on then … so we really have to get it done before July 1,” said Alexander Downer, Ban’s special envoy to Cyprus who oversees peace talks.

“This process will come to an end when either there is an agreement or if there is complete deadlock,” he told Reuters earlier this month.

Cyprus, with a combined population of about one million, was torn apart in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a Greek-inspired coup. The conflict is a significant source of tension between NATO-allies Greece and Turkey, and was thrown into sharper focus by a row over Mediterranean hydrocarbon riches recently discovered by Greek Cypriots and contested by Ankara.

Turkey has seen its aspirations to join the European Union frustrated by the Cyprus stalemate and Greek Cypriots, who say Ankara cannot join the bloc until its division is resolved. Turkey says it will freeze ties with the EU when Cyprus assumes the presidency.

The EU, which is backing the UN’s efforts, urged the two sides to seize the opportunity for reunification.

“I share the assessment of the secretary-general that a window of opportunity currently exists and that an agreement is possible,” Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said on Friday.

Both sides agree, on paper, in relinking Cyprus under a federal umbrella, but differ on how it is to work.

At the summit, the United Nations will focus on seeking a convergence on the electoral system in a future federated Cyprus, how to potentially settle property claims from thousands of people internally displaced and future citizenship on an island whose demographics have shifted massively since division.

The United Nations says a convergence on these three issues would be considered a success, allowing the process to move ahead to talks on territorial adjustments and convening a multilateral meeting which would also involve Greece, Turkey and Britain, the island’s guarantor powers.

In practice, diplomats say the United Nations would be happy with a good outcome on just one of them; the electoral system.

Greek Cypriots have backed the idea of a rotating presidency under a weighted voting system. Turkish Cypriots advocate a separate ballot for each ethnic group.

The conflict has been on the UN agenda in various guises for more than half a century, but it is unlikely diplomats will throw in the towel, yet. “Even if there is no deal, I don’t see the UN walking away. It will muddle through this,” said one Nicosia-based diplomat. (By Michele Kambas; Editing by Janet Lawrence) *image from nicolette.dkk – To keep the Turkish and Greek Cypriots apart, the UN has set up a buffer zone along the Green Line.

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