Cypriot leaders in unification talks pledge

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Cyprus’s two presidents on Wednesday launched unification talks by discussing an incident at a new border crossing point set up as a United Nations-sponsored confidence-building measure.

The incident, which blocked Greek Cypriots from making a pilgrimage last weekend to a church in north Cyprus, highlighted the day-to-day obstacles the negotiators are likely to face.

Advisers to Mehmet Ali Talat, the Turkish Cypriot leader, said the Limnitis crossing point had been closed because of the Turkish military’s concerns about security.

Demetris Christofias, the Greek Cypriot leader, said the Turkish decision “fell short of the spirit of good faith that should have prevailed”.

However, the two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to “full-fledged negotiations” to unify Cyprus as a federal state.

Alexander Downer, the UN special adviser to the talks, said progress in preparing the talks had been “encouraging”.

The two leaders plan to hold regular weekly meetings, with the aim of agreeing on questions of governance before tackling more divisive issues.

These include the return of property and territory to Greek Cypriots, the withdrawal of Turkish troops from north Cyprus and the status of settlers from mainland Turkey.

Security for both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities was likely to be the biggest stumbling block to an agreement, Nicosia-based analysts said.

To the small Turkish Cypriot community, the presence of more than 30,000 Turkish soldiers in the north offers protection as well as bringing economic benefits.

For Greek Cypriots, the Turkish military presence is an implied threat to the stability of their prosperous republic in the south.

Mr Talat said on Wednesday the Turkish Cypriot community wanted to maintain a guarantee arrangement that allowed the presence of Turkish and Greek army contingents on the island.

But Mr Christofias said he and Mr Talat had previously pledged to work for a unified Cyprus “without any so-called guardians of our communities”.

Cyprus was divided in 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the north of the island, following a Greek-inspired coup aimed at union with Greece.

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