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Good will, hope and doubt at new UN Cyprus talks

media United Nations checkpoints have divided Cyprus between Greek and Turkish Cypriot sections since 1974. DR

Reunification of Cyprus is within the grasp of leaders meeting in Switzerland this week, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Monday. Leaders have already negotiated on many points but the question of land and territory comes with no easy answers.

The Mediterranean island has been divided between Greek and Turkish Cypriot sections since a coup d’état in Greece sparked a Turkish military occupation of the north in 1974.

The invasion prompted some 200,000 people – nearly one-fifth of the population – to flee from one part of the island to another.

One of the symbolic sites of the division that resulted is the town of Morphou, on one of the crossing points between Greek and Turkish parts of the island.

The town had an almost entirely Greek Cypriot population before 1974 but it now has a Turkish name, Guzelyurt, and is home to 18,000 Turkish Cypriots.

“We have been refugees in our own country for 42 years and it’s about time the leaders find a solution to the problem,” says Ourania Peletie, a Greek Cypriot woman who fled her home in Morphou in 1974 and now lives in Nicosia.

“They should seek a clear agreement on the territorial issue and clarify the Turkish Cypriot position on all outstanding issues”

Hoping to succeed where other UN-sponsored deals have failed

But the current talks bring a familiar mix of good will, hope and doubt.

“The only way is dialogue, we realise that,” says Charalambos Pittas, the mayor of Morphou’s Greek-elected shadow municipality.

“But I am not sure [the talks will bring success], because the Turkish side continue to demand unacceptable things. It is not possible for us to accept the results of this illegal Turkish invasion and it is not possible for us to accept and to recognise their pseudo-state in the occupied areas.”

In 2004 a deal drafted by then-Secretary General Kofi Annan was accepted by Turkish Cypriots but rejected by Greek Cypriots in referendum votes.

That deal would have seen Morphou/Guzelyurt transferred to Greek Cypriot administration but today some are looking for different solutions.

“One argument is instead of this to the Greek Cypriots, to be part of the Greek Cypriot constituent state, why don’t we have this area belonging to the federal state where both Greek and Turkish Cypriots can live together,” says Ahmet Sozen, professor of international relations at Eastern Mediterranean University in Famagusta.

“If the two sides are open to creative ways, they can come up with creative solutions.”

Turkey’s reaction is key

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed hope that Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Musstafa Akinci were within reach of an agreement.

“The two leaders have expressed their hope that this meeting will pave the way for the last phase of the talks in line with their shared commitment to do their utmost in order to reach a settlement within 2016,” Ban said at the outset of the five-day talks.

But the international dimension will come into play as well, as any deal needs the backing of the island’s three guarantors, Britain, Greece and Turkey.

If the first two are part of a broad international endorsement for reaching a deal, it remains to be seen how the latter will respond.

“The international community – not only the UN, but also the US, the European Union and others – have all put their support behind these talks, so the momentum is there,” says Cengiz Aktar, professor of political science at the Istanbul Policy Centre.

“But much will depend on the reaction of Ankara,” he continues. “I personally don’t know how a Turkish government that talks about its historic legitimate rights to Ottoman territories of Syria, Iraq and Greece will react to the idea of giving back some land in Cyprus.”

To read our coverage of Turkey since this year's failed coup click here

To read reports from Greece on its economic crisis click here

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