Greek, Turkish Cypriot leaders to meet March 17-24

(dpa) - Cyprus' new President Dimitris Christofias said that he will meet the Turkish Cypriot leader sometime between March 17 and 24 during an official trip to the Greek capital Thursday.

Christofias expressed hope Wednesday that "exploratory" talks with Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat would result in the opening of one of the busiest commercial streets in the divided capital Nicosia, Ledra Street, in addition to the Limnitis barricade.

"I expect the meeting with Mr Talat to occur between the 17th and the 24th of this month," Christofias said during a press conference.

"It is my wish, yes, to resolve the Cyprus issue during this five- year term. That is my aim," he said.

"We will work tirelessly for this, but this also requires the cooperation of others."

Christofias arrived in the Greek capital Athens on Wednesday in his first official visit abroad since his election to office over a week ago.

United Nations envoys are working on ways to open up Ledra Street in the middle of the capital Nicosia which has been blocked off for decades, making Nicosia the only divided capital in Europe.

The street is among the busiest commercial avenues of the city at both its Greek and Turkish ends but it is divided and forms part of the UN buffer zone where no one is allowed access.

Limnitis is located in the north-west of the island.

A total of five checkpoints have been opened since April 2003, when Turkish Cypriots opened crossings towards the south for the first time since 1974.

Hours after his presidential election victory on February 24, Christofias pledged to quickly relaunch stalled peace talks, with Talat saying he believed a deal could be reached by the end of the year.

Negotiations between the island's two communities broke down in 2004 after Greek Cypriots rejected a UN plan to end the decades-old division and instead joined the European Union without the Turkish Cypriots.

Since the 2004 referendum, former Cypriot president Tassos Papadopoulos had made no real attempt to break the deadlock and many felt his failure to take a firm stance to revive peace talks with the island's Turkish Cypriot community only ended up alienating the Greek Cypriots in the EU.

The long-running stand-off is a thorn in relations between NATO allies Greece and Turkey and has been an obstacle to Turkey's efforts to move toward EU membership.

Christofias said the most important goal would be to have a unified, demilitarized Cyprus.

"We have no plans to touch the British bases ... but full demilitarization of the island remains a long-term goal," Christofias said.

The island has two sovereign British bases which began operating when the former British colony gained independence in 1960.

The island has been divided since 1974, and Cyprus is represented internationally by the Greek Cypriot government in the south, while the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north is recognized only by Ankara, which maintains 30,000 troops in the enclave.

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