Cyprus leader hails 'milestone' in reunification talks
By Eric Maurice
The Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders have exchanged maps showing how much territory their communities would control on a reunified island, in a move that could be a major breakthrough towards a peace settlement.
"The submission of maps is a milestone in the history of the Cyprus problem. We continue to strive to satisfy the expectations of the Cypriot people," Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades wrote on Twitter on Wednesday (11 January).
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Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akinci had been negotiating since Monday in Geneva, Switzerland, in what was considered a last-chance effort to reach an agreement.
A UN-chaired multilateral conference begins on Thursday with the three powers that guarantee Cyprus's security - the UK, Greece and Turkey.
Cyprus has been divided since a Turkish invasion in 1974. The current peace talks started in 2015, after a first settlement plan, proposed by the UN, failed in 2004.
UN Cyprus envoy Espen Barth Eide said talks had reached a "very important and historic moment".
"Never before have we had an exchange or presentation of maps created by the Cypriot delegations themselves with every sentence and comma written by Cypriots," he said on Wednesday.
Last November, a previous round of talks in Switzerland between Anastasiades and Akinci had failed over the so-called territory issue, and another failure would have jeopardised the whole process.
'Not the end of the road'
Thursday's multilateral conference, however, is unlikely to produce a definitive settlement.
The Greek and Turkish Cypriot have started exchanging remarks on the two maps they swapped and further discussions will be needed.
"It’s not the end of the road," Anastasiades spokesman told journalists. "It’s the start of negotiations on a very important chapter of the Cyprus problem."
Other issues to be discussed with the guarantors are also difficult, in particular the security of the island, and the guarantee itself.
Turkey still has 40,000 soldiers in the northern part of Cyprus. The Greek Cypriots wants the Turkish army to leave, while the Turkish Cypriots and Ankara want it to stay.
Turkey, which will ultimately back or block any deal Akinci would be ready to make with Anastasiades, will not accept the end of the guarantee, but would be “open to a modernisation" of the security framework, Sinan Ulgen, from the Carnegie Europe think-tank, told EUobserver.
The three guarantors will not be represented at the highest level on Thursday, which indicates that the talks will be mainly aimed at clearing the way to further, decisive talks between leaders.
The UK, Greece and Turkey will be represented by their foreign ministers Boris Johnson, Nikos Kotzias and Mevlut Cavusoglu.
'The time has come'
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and the EU diplomacy chief Federica Mogherini will be in Geneva.
"I think the time has come to reunite the island," Juncker said in Valletta on Wednesday, adding that it was "the last chance to see the island being recomposed in a normal way".
"When it is about peace, you have to take the plane," he said. "I would not be happy with my own behaviour if I were to hide away."
Juncker, whose commission has been involved at a technical level to prepare a reunification and the integration of the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus into EU structures, admitted that taking part in the Geneva talks was "risky".
"But when it is about peace you have to take risks," he said. "When it is about peace, those who are taking no risks are taking the greater risk."