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Cypriot leaders agree to resume reunification talks

Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders have agreed to resume UN-backed talks next month to reunite the ethnically divided island. The key issues of territory and security remain the final major sticking points.

Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart, Mustafa Akinci, have agreed to resume peace negotiations in January, the UN said Friday, nearly two weeks after disagreement threatened to derail 19 months of negotiations.

The two leaders will meet in Geneva on January 9 for four days and present their respective maps on the internal borders of a future bi-communal federal state, the UN said in a statement. Then on January 12 the two sides will convene with the so-called guarantor powers of Greece, Turkey and former colonial ruler Britain. Ahead of January's talks, teams from the two sides will continue to work with the added participation of the two presidents when needed.

"I want to reiterate our determination and from what I've concluded the determination of the other side to finally create the kind of fertile ground that will lead us to a successful conclusion," Anastasiades said.

The agreement to resume negotiations came after UN special advisor Espen Barth Eide brought the two leaders together on Thursday evening for the first time since two rounds of talks in Switzerland in November failed to overcome the key issues of territory and security.

Cyprus has been divided between a Turkish north and internationally recognized Greek south since 1974 when the Turkish military intervened after a junta in Athens orchestrated a Cypriot coup to unite the island with Greece.

Inter-communal violence and the Turkish intervention displaced thousands of mostly Greek Cypriots. This has made the territorial boundaries of a future bi-communal federation and population transfers major sticking points in the talks before they advance to the issue of security.

While Turks made up about 18 percent of the population in 1974, the Turkish military intervention left them in control of roughly a third of the island's territory.  The two sides have come close to agreeing on the amount of territory to be under Turkish Cypriot administration, with Akinci suggesting 29.2 percent and the Greek Cypriots proposing 28.2 percent, that would represent a loss of about 7 percent or 8 percent of what the Turkish Cypriots now control.

Anastasiades wants about 95,000 Greeks to be able to return to their homes, but Akinci has set a limit of 65,000 people.

Redrawing the border would see communities displaced again from their current homes. For example, Anastasiades has pushed for the administration of Morphou, a town currently in the Turkish-controlled north. Akinci has said he would not agree to a deal that would force 18,000 Turkish Cypriot residents in the town to be uprooted a second time in 42 years.

Each side needs to be able to return to their citizens with a deal that would be supported in a referendum should a final agreement be reached. A UN-backed referendum in 2004 to reunite the island was accepted by Turkish Cypriots, who hoped it would allow them to join the European Union. But it was rejected by Greek Cypriots, who are already members of the EU.

Security remains another major stumbling block. Turkey has about 30,000 troops stationed in northern Cyprus. Turkish Cypriots want Turkey to maintain its military presence on the island and have the right to intervene if the deal breaks down, something the Greek side flatly rejects. 

Military intervention rights were granted to Greece, Turkey and Britain under the 1960 constitution. The Greek government has said it opposes keeping these rights in place after a peace deal.

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