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Turkish Cypriot leader envisions reunification 'within months'

Turkish Cypriot president Mustafa Akinci says divided Cyprus will reunite within a matter of months. But he will have to overcome reluctance on the internationally recognized Greek side first.

Following a series of high-profile meetings, Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci announced that he was optimistic on reaching an agreement to end the 41-year-old conflict that has kept the Mediterranean island divided. He said this could occur "in a matter of months."

The

recently elected Turkish Cypriot president

said that he and Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades had met several times in recent months and had made "a good beginning."

"It would be difficult to say that we can resolve this before the end of the year. But I am prepared to say that it's a matter of months rather than years. That, I believe," Akinci said.

Reunification instead of division

Akinci also called for political leadership on both sides of the conflict to convince all Greek Cypriots that it was time to reunite the country, ending decades of isolation for some 300,000 Turkish Cypriots. He said that he believed the majority of Turkish Cypriots supported an end to the conflict.

"With the passage of time collective memory is getting lost, and unfortunately younger generations are becoming more alienated from each other," Akinci warned, stressing that if Cyprus was not reunified soon, future generations would seek "a different kind of solution that will be more along the lines of division."

Turkish Cypriot president Mustafa Akinci (Photo: REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou)

Mustafa Akinci: "I am prepared to say that it's a matter of months rather than years."

Akinci and Anastasiades agreed to continue holding

UN-facilitated peace talks

twice a month. Their next meeting is schedules for June 17. The Turkish Cypriot leader also met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York earlier this week, who gave his strong backing to the peace talks.

Despite widespread hesitation and reluctance on the Greek Cypriot side to enter a renewed federation with the Turkish north, Akinci maintained his confidence in the talks:

"We need to continue in this manner and, more importantly, we need to finalize in this manner," Akinci said. "We haven't discussed the main issues yet. We started with certain confidence-building measures."

First peacebuilding steps

Those measures included

opening border crossings

as well as connecting the electricity grid and mobile phone systems between the two rival communities. Both leaders have also called for information on more than 1,000 missing persons from the 1974 war between the two communities. Next on the agenda, Akinci requested UN expertise to clear some 28 minefields in northern Cyprus.

Cyprus was split into an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north in 1974. Turkey invaded the north of the island following a coup by Cypriots seeking union with Greece. Turkish Cypriots then declared an independent state in 1983, which to this day is recognized only by Turkey.

Cyprus joined the European Union in 2003, with only the south enjoying membership benefits, such as the right to live and work in other EU states. Turkey meanwhile kept 35,000 troops stationed along the dividing line between the two sides of the island. This border was drawn by the UN along with a buffer zone referred to as the "Green Line." Cutting straight across Nicosia, the Green Line makes the city the world's last divided capital.

In May, Akinci and Anastasiades sat down to have coffee in cafes on both sides of Nicosia, marking the first time the leaders had

crossed the Green Line together

.

ss/sgb (AP, AFP)

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