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Historic Cyprus peace in balance at Geneva talks

Nicosia: Rival Cypriot leaders resume UN- brokered peace talks in Geneva tomorrow billed as a historic opportunity to end a decades-long conflict on the divided island, but the outcome is far from certain.

Both Turkish- and Greek-speaking sides concede all key issues remain unresolved but the UN is pulling out all the stops to get a deal over the line.

“It is a real possibility that 2017 will be the year when the Cypriots, themselves, freely decide to turn the page of history,” United Nations envoy Espen Barth Eide said in his New Year’s message.

But some experts believe that Geneva is a disaster waiting to happen because Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders are still worlds apart on the most crucial sticking points such as property, territorial adjustments and security.

“I will be surprised if there is a comprehensive agreement given the difficulties,” Andreas Theophanous, head of the Cyprus Centre for European and International Affairs, told AFP.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the island in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.

It has always been agreed that some of the territory currently controlled by the Turkish Cypriots will be ceded to Greek Cypriot control in any peace deal.

Turkish Cypriots made up just 18 per cent of the island’s population in 1974, but they currently control more than a third of its territory.

Just how much and which land they should give up has hampered four decades of peace talks.

Years of inter-community violence, which culminated with the Turkish invasion and subsequent declaration of a republic on Cyprus’ northern third, saw thousands from both sides flee their homes — and they remain displaced to this day.

The territory issue is so vital because both Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci will have to sell any final agreement to their respective sides via twin popular votes.