A lasting peace deal to reunite the divided island of Cyprus is within reach, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday, as he opened peace talks between rival leaders from the country.
Ban is hosting make-or-break negotiations between Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akinci, with the two sides aiming to resolve one of the world’s longest running political crises.
The two leaders were set to directly discuss the thorny issue of territorial adjustments for the first time when formal negotiations begin behind closed doors at a snow-bound Swiss resort overlooking the Alps and Lake Geneva.
The five days of negotiations will also concentrate “all other outstanding issues interdependently”, Ban said.
The outgoing U.N. chief praised both men for achieving “significant progress” in the peace process which began 18 months ago.
He called on Greece, Britain and Turkey to give their backing.
“At the same time a number of sensitive and difficult issues still remain,” he told reporters before talks began.
“The two leaders have reached a critical juncture in their talks. I encourage them to make the most of the moment and the momentum,” Ban said.
“The prospect of a solution in Cyprus is within their reach.”
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.
Thousands of Turkish troops are stationed in Cyprus’ north, the Turkish Cypriot state recognized only by Ankara.
The last major peace push collapsed in 2004 when a proposal worked out by then-U.N. chief Kofi Annan was accepted by most Turkish Cypriots but resoundingly dismissed by Greek Cypriots in twin referendums.