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Cyprus president: Ready to resume peace talks after impasse

Associated Press Associated Press 23/11/2016 By MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS, Associated Press
Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, left, speaks with Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, right, next to Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on Cyprus Espen Barth Eide, 2nd right, and Elizabeth Spehar, Deputy to the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Cyprus, 2nd left, during the Cyprus Talks, in Mont Pelerin, Switzerland Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016. (Jean-Christophe Bott/Keystone via AP) © The Associated Press Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, left, speaks with Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, right, next to Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on Cyprus Espen Barth Eide, 2nd right, and Elizabeth Spehar, Deputy to the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Cyprus, 2nd left, during the Cyprus Talks, in Mont Pelerin, Switzerland Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016. (Jean-Christophe Bott/Keystone via AP)

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus' president said Wednesday that he's ready to pick up where talks aimed at reunifying the ethnically divided island left off earlier this week after hitting an impasse and throwing the 18-month old peace process into question.

But President Nicos Anastasiades said further negotiations with breakaway Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci must remain focused on how much territory each side would control in an aimed-for federation before the talks can move on to a final phase.

Anastasiades said he and Akinci made progress during two days of intensive, United Nations-backed talks at the Swiss resort of Mont Pelerin, but deadlocked after Turkish Cypriots balked at the number of Greek Cypriots who would be eligible to reclaim property under redrawn federal boundaries.

"Despite the disappointment caused by the Mont Pelerin outcome, I want to assure you that I'm determined...to take all those necessary steps in order to negotiations to resume," Anastasiades said during a televised address.

"I won't allow hope to fade out as long as this depends on me," he said.

A 1974 coup aiming at uniting Cyprus with Greece triggered a Turkish invasion that split the island into a breakaway Turkish-speaking north and an internationally recognized Greek-speaking south. Turkish Cypriots declared independence nine years later, but only Turkey recognizes the north as a separate state.

Anastasiades said both sides had tentatively agreed that the Turkish Cypriot federal zone should be between 28.2 and 29.2 percent of the island's territory — about 8-7 percent less than Turkish Cypriots currently hold.

According to a U.N. estimate, that means between 78,200 and 94,500 Greeks displaced by the invasion would get back homes and property that fall inside the Greek Cypriot federal zone's extended boundaries.

The U.N. estimate was roughly equal to what the Greek Cypriot side was seeking, the president said. But Akinci initially insisted that no more than 55,000 Greek Cypriots should reclaim property, later raising the figure to 65,000, he said.

Akinci on Tuesday accused Greek Cypriot negotiators of making unfair demands from his people. He added that although he respects the rights of Greek Cypriots, he wouldn't give up the rights of Turkish Cypriots.

Anastasiades said it was "obvious" the Turkish Cypriot side was attempting to bundle the territory issue into a final summit bringing together Greece, Turkey and Cyprus' former colonial ruler Britain to sort out security arrangements after reunification.

Such a development would possibly scupper the entire process, Anastasiades said, because it could lead to a kind of bartering between territory and Turkish military intervention rights that Turkish Cypriots see as vital to their security and Greek Cypriots see as an unacceptable threat.

Anastasiades' televised address came a few hours after U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appealed to both leaders not to let a 'historic opportunity' to reunify Cyprus slip away.

Ban spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the U.N. leader shares Cyprus' disappointment over the deadlocked talks, and "urges the leaders to continue their efforts in line with their shared commitment to do their utmost in order to reach a settlement in 2016."

Dujarric said Ban repeated his full support to the peace talks that have been hailed as the best chance in decades to resolve one of the world's most intractable problems. He said the U.N. chief would soon be in touch with both leaders to discuss the next steps.

"He reminds them that temporary setbacks are not uncommon in peace processes as talks approach the final stage," Dujarric said.

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