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Cyprus Peace Talks to Restart

By Nathan Morley
21 March 2008

Hopes are now high that the face-to- face meeting between the two community leaders in Cyprus has paved the way for peace on the divided Mediterranean island. The new president of the Republic of Cyprus Demitis Christofias was elected on a mandate to resolve the long-standing division of the island. Friday's meeting comes just weeks after he took office, and as Nathan Morley reports for VOA from Nicosia, early indications are that the encounter was a success.

Friday's talks are important because there has been virtually no contact between the leaders of the two communities for nearly four years.

With a new president in the south and a moderate leader in the north, commentators see the time as being ripe for a solution to Cyprus question.

In a highly symbolic move, the two men agreed to open a barrier in the center of Nicosia, which had cut through one of the cities leading shopping streets. More importantly, Greek Cypriot President Demitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat have agreed to meet again, raising hopes that peace talks may soon be back on track here in Cyprus.

After years of stagnation, with little dialogue between the two sides, Friday's meeting provides much needed hope to those who have waited over 34 years for a solution.

The former Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Nicos Rolandis is optimistic that momentum for further confidence building measures can be created.

"We have two moderate leaders on both sides of the dividing line, the new president of Cyprus Demitris Christofias has been working for a united Cyprus for many years and I would say the same applies for Mr Talat. It's a historical moment for Cyprus," he said. "It is not an easy feat of course to have the problem resolved."

Over 30 years of U.N. efforts have failed to reunite the Greek and Turkish communities and a catalogue of painful problems face the two leaders including property rights, the return of displaced people and security arrangements.

The veteran former Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, who was seen by many in the international community as the main obstacle to peace in Cyprus, thinks the latest wave renewed optimism gives a false impression of the realities of the Cyprus dilemma.

"Unfortunately, people who create this atmosphere are people who refuse to diagnose the problem," he said.

He and his supporters are adamant that the only way the political stalemate on the island will be solved is for two separate independent states, working together.

"Don't' we want to unite? Don't we want Cyprus to be free and normal again? Of course we do, but on the basis this time of permanence," he added. "Not a paper agreement, but on the basis of reality. [The] reality is, existence of two national units, two states, like Czechs and Slovaks. Let them agree how to work together - how to be represented in the EU - but not to put Turkish Cypriots back again into the laps of Greek Cypriots, who will continue to try and make Cyprus Greek again."

The main fear now is that if the two sides do not move to secure peace and re-unification that time will finally run out and the island will remain cut in two.

Mehmet Cakici is the leader of the Turkish Cypriot Democracy Party.

"Everyday we are losing our optimism in our society, especially the Turkish Cypriots, so maybe this will be our last chance," he said.

This country has been split since the Turkish invasion in 1974. The Greek Cypriots in the south represent Cyprus in the EU, the Turkish Cypriot north is seen as a breakaway state, with only Turkey recognizing it.

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