Greece and Turkey edge closer to deal to end Cyprus conflict

Push to reunite island reaches critical juncture during talks in Geneva as leaders tackled thorny question of territorial realignment

A man sits in front of the fence that divides the Greek and Turkish Cypriots areas
A man sits in front of the fence that divides the Greek and Turkish Cypriots areas

One of the west’s most intractable disputes has edged closer to resolution with the leaders of Cyprus’ Greek and Turkish communities discussing the critical issue of territorial realignment on the third day of peace talks in Geneva.

As the latest push to reunite the island reached a critical juncture, Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akıncı moved to the make-or-break issue of territorial trade-offs in an envisioned two-state federation.

In a country where more than 200,000 people lost their homes, territory and the boundaries both states would have is key to a solution. For the first time, away from Cyprus in the psychologically less charged atmosphere of Switzerland, the two leaders poured over maps and tackled the thorny question of land swaps and percentages on the war-torn island.

As politicians, including the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, prepared to fly in for a landmark conference that will see the UK, Greece and Turkey – the island’s three post-colonial guarantor powers – also join talks on Thursday, the prospect of an immediate breakthrough dimmed.

Delegates instead spoke of an “open-ended” process, one in which the clock would stop if necessary. “We recognise that issues that have taken years to address cannot be solved in a day,” one said. “Negotiations may well extend into the weekend. We may adopt that age-old conference policy of stopping the clock.”

Others admitted that, on account of the slow pace of progress, they had not booked return flights out of Geneva.

If the contours of a territorial plan are agreed, a deal could be reached that will be put to referendum later this year.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded the north
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded the north

For Anastasiades, who heads the island’s internationally recognised Greek-controlled south, this is by far the most delicate stage of negotiations that are highly emotive among his own constituency.

Although Cypriots from both sides of the ethnic divide rallied in support of a solution on Tuesday – braving icy temperatures to sing in the name of peace near the UN-patrolled buffer zone that divides the capital Nicosia – the leader also faces considerable opposition from a cohort of rejectionist politicians.

Six of the eight parties represented in Cyprus’ parliament oppose a settlement, mostly on the grounds that no deal would ever properly compensate those who lost property and homes when Turkey invaded in 1974. Responding to a right-wing attempt to unite the island with Greece, the Turkish army seized 37% of its territory before a breakaway state was unilaterally declared in 1983.

Anastasiades, who sees this as the last chance to reunite Cyprus, now has the daunting task of convincing the Turks to surrender enough territory to allow 90,000 refugees to return to their homes – a feat that would permit him to not only sign up to a solution but ensure it was endorsed when put to referendum.

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