Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders will hold talks with UN chief Ban Ki-moon in Geneva on Wednesday hoping for a breakthrough in talks aimed at reunifying the Mediterranean island, dpa reported.
Ban has warned the reunification talks that began in 2008 could "founder fatally" if a substantive agreement is not reached within the next few months. Ban is expected to receive an update on the status of negotiations from Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu.
Worried that the process for creating a single federation was starting to lose momentum, the UN secretary general held a three-way meeting with Christofias and Eroglu in New York in November. In a recent report to the Security Council, Ban warned that "a critical window of opportunity is rapidly closing."
The two sides are discussing the possibility of establishing a federation with two administration zones for each ethnic group, but they have been unable to agree on how to implement the proposal, and the Cypriotic Turks have not abandoned talk of outright independence.
Cyprus has been been divided since 1974 into an internationally recognised Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north, after Turkey invaded the northern third of the island in response to a Greek-inspired coup.
Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, but only the southern, Greek portion enjoys the benefits.
Turkey still maintains 45,000 troops on the island, while 850 UN troops patrol a buffer zone - known as the Green Line - dividing the two communities. Only Turkey recognizes the Turkish Cypriot part.
Despite progress on the issues of governance and the a power sharing formula under a future federation, months of negotiations between the two communities have failed to bridge the gap on more difficult issues such as territorial swaps and the property rights of thousands of internally displaced people.
Eroglu has repeatedly expressed his desire for Turkish Cypriot independence while the Greek Cypriots want one state with two self- administrating areas. Any agreement between the two leaders will have to pass a referendum on both sides of the island.
The United Nations has also expressed fears that with Greek- Cypriot parliamentary elections looming in May and elections in Turkey in June, domestic politics could undermine the negotiations.
Recent information that Cyprus could be sitting on considerable quantities of potentially lucrative hydrocarbons could further hinder peace efforts, according to Turkey.
The Greek Cypriots have granted a permit to a US company to explore for oil and gas south-east of the island, close to where Israel recently made two massive offshore gas discoveries.
Greek Cypriot voters have overwhelmingly rejected a 2004 UN reunification blueprint in a referendum, despite a Turkish referendum approving the plan. European Union officials have said that progress in Cyprus is essential for Turkey's slow-moving EU membership aspirations.
Although the Cyprus talks and Turkey's potential EU membership are separate processes, a breakthrough on one is likely to have a positive impact on the other.