Cypriot leaders to launch historic peace talks

Cypriot leaders will relaunch peace talks on Wednesday aimed at ending a decades-old conflict and reuniting the divided eastern Mediterranean island, reported dpa.

The launch of the talks on Wednesday will be in the presence of newly appointed UN envoy for Cyprus, former Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

The two leaders of the ethnically-divided island agreed in July to re-launch full-fledged peace negotiations on September 3, ending a four-year deadlock in efforts to bring the two communities together.

Peace talks have been deadlocked after former president Tassos Papadopoulos led the Greek-Cypriot rejection of a UN reunification plan in a 2004 referendum. Turkish Cypriots had overwhelmingly voted in favour.

With newly-elected Christofias in office, expectations are running high for a breakthrough in efforts to reunite the island, which has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded the northern third in response to an Athens-led coup to annex the island to Greece.

"We hope that we will expand efforts to reach a comprehensive settlement for this long-standing problem. The groundwork seems to be OK this time around," Turkish Cypriot Government spokesman Hasan Erkacica told Deutsche Presse Agentur (dpa) in a telephone interview.

In a recent effort to illustrate their commitment to peace, Christofias and Talat in April jointly opened a north-south crossing point in the heart of the divided capital, which had come to signify the island's division.

Only the southern part of Cyprus is a member of the European Union, while the Turkish Cypriots have repeatedly called on the EU to end an economic embargo on the northern part, which is only recognized by Turkey.

The two sides have agreed in principle to reunite the island as a federal state composed of two constituent states, which would guarantee the equality of both communities.

Until now, however, the sides have not been able to agree on a procedure on how this might work. One other issue looming in the background is Turkey's aspirations to the join the European Union.

Greek Cypriots which represent Cyprus in the European Union are unlikely to approve Turkey's membership as long as the island remains divided.

"There are issues which will be discussed which are not easy. All of them are important and complex and some of them have a special importance and are difficult because of the importance given to them by Turkey," said Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou.

Next week both sides will focus on the complex list of issues dividing the two sides, ranging from territory and property disputes from more 250,00 people who have lost their homes to future governance of the island.

Christofias and Talat said any agreed solution would be put to separate, simultaneous referenda in the north and the south.

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