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Cyprus peace talks 'positive and productive'

After meeting for four hours, Cyprus' rival leaders have vowed to "work tirelessly" for a swift peace accord on the divided island. The talks come following an eight-month pause.

Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades (above left) and the leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots, Mustafa Akinci (right), met in Nicosia in search of a breakthrough to the long-running conflict.

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

The new talks began after last month's victory of Akinci, a moderate, over a conservative incumbent – offering a glimmer of hope that a peace deal may be in sight.

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.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed the leaders' commitment to push talks forward without delay, his spokesman said. UN envoy Espen Barth Eide (above center) said both leaders discussed their "shared vision" of a Cyprus unified under a federal structure, and agreed to meet at least twice a month.

Benefits of peace

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

Peace would also boost regional security, unlock cooperation on the region's offshore gas deposits and assist Turkey's efforts to join the EU.

Confidence building measures

In a sign of mutual commitment to peace, the two leaders agreed to work on a number of steps aimed at building confidence, said Eide.

As a small first step on Friday, Anastasiades disclosed the coordinates of 28 minefields dotting a mountain range in the north. Akinci, in turn, announced that people crossing any of the seven north-south checkpoints along the UN-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.

Some are skeptical

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 was still ambiguity over the details of a peace accord that need to be cleared up, to overcome a "culture of negativity."

Key issues that previous talks stumbled upon included how power would be shared, military intervention rights, and property rights of displaced communities from 1974.

av/jr (AP, AFP)

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