Divided Cyprus' rival leaders restart reunification talks after 8-month hiatus

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    NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus' rival leaders on Friday vowed to "work tirelessly" for a swift peace accord, a United Nations envoy said, after relaunching talks aimed at ending the small Mediterranean island nation's four decades of division.

    In an echo of previous attempts to forge a peace deal, Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and the leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots, Mustafa Akinci, met at the capital's derelict airport in search of a breakthrough to one of Europe's most stubborn conflicts.

    "In the prevailing climate of optimism, and encouraged by the momentum that is building across the island, the two leaders underscored their shared will to reach a comprehensive settlement," U.N. envoy Espen Barth Eide said after the four-hour meeting.

    Cyprus was split into an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece.

    Last month's victory of Akinci, a moderate, over a hard-line incumbent has offered a glimmer of hope that a peace deal may be in the offing.

    U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed the leaders' commitment to push talks forward without delay, his spokesman said. The talks are the first between the two sides following an eight-month pause.

    "The talks took place in a very positive climate and I believe that working in similar fashion, we can hope for progress," Anastasiades said after the meeting.

    Eide said both leaders discussed their "shared vision" of a Cyprus unified under a federal structure, and agreed to meet at least twice a month.

    The potential benefits of peace are huge.

    Both communities would reap hundreds of millions in investment and economic growth. Turkish Cypriots would break their dependence on the military and financial might of Turkey which bankrolls the internationally isolated north and keeps more than 30,000 troops there.

    Peace would also bolster regional security, unlock cooperation on the region's offshore gas deposits and ease Turkey's EU bid.

    In a sign of mutual commitment to peace, the two leaders agreed to work on a number of steps aimed at building confidence, Eide said. As a small first step Friday, Anastasiades disclosed the coordinates of 28 minefields dotting a mountain range in the north. Akinci announced that people crossing any of the seven north-south checkpoints along the U.N. controlled buffer zone will no longer need to fill out a form, speeding up the process.

    Eide said the leaders also agreed to set up a committee promoting cultural events and underlined the issue of the hundreds of Greek and Turkish Cypriots who vanished during inter-communal fighting in the 1960s and the 1974 Turkish invasion.

    Anastasiades said more such steps may be announced on May 28 when he meets Akinci again. The two leaders will meet socially on May 23rd, to show their "unity in promoting a mutually acceptable" peace deal, Eide said.

    Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic said there are expectations that "a fair, lasting and comprehensive" deal will be reached this year. "Our priority is a solution in which the political equality of the Turkish Cypriot side is guaranteed," he said.

    But similar optimism has preceded previous rounds of what ended up being failed talks, most recently in 2008.

    Nicosia University Political Science Professor Giorgos Kentas, cautioned that there is no tangible sign that this round is driven by "some sort of exceptional momentum."

    Aside from the agreed belief in a federal structure, Kentas also said there's still ambiguity over the nuts and bolts of a peace accord that needs to be cleared up to overcome a "culture of negativity."

    Previous talks have stumbled on key issues including how power will be shared, military intervention rights and property rights of displaced communities from 1974.


    Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed.

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