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New UN envoy tests waters for fresh talks on ending Cyprus divide

By AFP

January 30, 2024 05:58 PM


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New United Nations Cyprus envoy Maria Angela Holguin Cuellar began a mission Tuesday to test the waters for a fresh round of talks on ending the Mediterranean island's five decades of division.

Holguin held a first meeting with Greek Cypriot leader Nikos Christodoulides, who is also the island's internationally recognised president, before crossing the UN-patrolled ceasefire line to meet Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tater.

"I come from a country that lived 50 years of conflict and was part of that team that reached a peace agreement," the Colombian diplomat told reporters after meeting Christodoulides.

"I think I can collaborate and do all my best for a good result for Cyprus... and push again," she said.

Following her recent appointment by UN chief Antonio Guterres, Holguin is tasked with gauging whether there is sufficient common ground for the world body to relaunch Cyprus reunification talks after a seven-year hiatus.

The European Union member state has been divided since 1974 when Turkish forces occupied the island's northern third in response to a military coup sponsored by the junta then in power in Athens seeking to annex the island to Greece.

The breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which Turkish Cypriot leaders proclaimed in 1983, is recognised only by Ankara.

Efforts to reunify the island have been at a standstill since the last round of UN-backed talks collapsed in 2017.

Diplomats largely blamed the Greek Cypriot side for the talks' collapse, noting that the concessions on the table from the Turkish side were an improvement on all previous reunification plans.

But the breakdown has prompted a tougher line from the Turkish Cypriots, who have demanded that with no reunification deal in sight, the international community accept a two-state solution.

The Greek Cypriots say that is now the main stumbling block to relaunching talks.

Cyprus government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis said there was "no time frame" for the new UN bid but the Greek Cypriot side had "reaffirmed our commitment to engage in this new period".

"Of course, we believe that, if there is the same political will on the other side, the resumption of negotiations can occur very soon," he added.

Over the next few days, Holguin is also scheduled to meet other officials and civil society groups to test the waters for a new reunification push.

Letymbiotis said the Greek Cypriot leader stood ready to hold another meeting with the envoy before she leaves, either alone or alongside his Turkish Cypriot counterpart.

Ahead of Holguin's visit, Christodoulides promised a package of new measures benefiting Turkish Cypriots Friday, in what he said was a bid to build trust between the two communities.

It includes pledges to fast-track Turkish Cypriot applications for Cyprus citizenship, offer pensions to widows, expand trade and boost access to Muslim places of worship.

The talks that collapsed in 2017 were widely billed as the last chance for a Cyprus settlement so any new reunification push is likely be a very tall order.

"The prospects of a solution that everyone can accept are gradually fading," the UN chief said in his latest report on Cyprus where the world body has had peacekeepers deployed since 1964.


AFP


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