NICOSIA, Cyprus – Rival Cypriot leaders will broach a multi-billion-euro territory dispute next week in Switzerland as part of UN-backed peace talks aimed at solving one of the world’s longest-running political crises.
Negotiations are due to discuss the previously intractable issue of territorial adjustments on the Mediterranean resort island – a main bone of contention during 4 decades of discord between its Greek- and Turkish-speaking communities.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.
UN-brokered talks between Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akinci began 17 months ago and have been billed as the island’s last best chance for an enduring peace deal.
Anastasiades this week urged both sides to “seize the opportunity not only to eliminate or reduce existing differences… but to achieve such progress on territory which allows us to lead to a final settlement”.
But talks have been beset by problems – including disputes over property and compensation – and Turkish Cypriot foreign minister Tahsin Ertugruloglu told Agence France-Presse last month that the peace process was “obviously a failure”.
Analysts say that any deal hinges on the issue of territory swaps, which could see a number of Turkish Cypriots displaced from their homes.
“Certain psychological barriers have been broken through if they can actually sit down with maps and share their positions with each other,” said Fiona Mullen, a Cyprus-based analyst at Sapienta Economics.
The two leaders will attempt to agree on the internal boundary between two future constituent states, allowing for the return of some areas in Turkish-held northern Cyprus to the Greek Cypriots.
Security ‘really the endgame’
“Territory is naturally connected to property issues and security because it affects the daily life of people living near the borders,” Turkish Cypriot analyst Mete Hatay told Agence France-Presse.
Without an agreement on territory there can be no decision on how many refugees can return to their former homes or how the plans for restoration, exchange or compensation of property – which could run to billions of euros (dollars) – will work.
“If they crack this issue then we will be on the way to the big, multi-party discussions on security,” Mullen said. “That’s really the endgame.”
Although initially costly, the International Monetary Fund believes any deal would provide a long-term boost for Cyprus, which needed a multi-billion-euro bailout in 2013 to rescue its teetering economy.
“The potential is a tremendous opportunity in terms of investments and trade in the long run,” the IMF’s Cyprus representative said this week.
The EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, in Nicosia last week, said a Cyprus settlement would be a “game changer” for the entire eastern Mediterranean.
The last major peace push ended in 2004 when a proposal worked out by then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was accepted by most Turkish Cypriots but resoundingly dismissed by Greek Cypriots.
The island – home to several British military bases – is an EU member but its division remains a major hurdle in Turkey’s accession bid.
United Nations chief Ban Ki-Moon has said he would like to see a final settlement of the Cyprus conflict before he steps down on December 31.
Any deal would then need to be voted on by both communities.
“There’s a general feeling that this is the small window to reach an agreement on all major political issues,” Mullen said.
Akinci, during a speech this week, said: “This is not something that we can keep discussing after 50 years for another 50 years. Everyone, including the UN, is aware of this.”