Cyprus talks stumble over fate of Turkish troops
Hopes for a peace deal in Cyprus stalled Friday over a decades-old dispute, with the rival sides at loggerheads over the future of Turkish troops on the divided island.
A week of UN-brokered talks in Geneva between Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci sparked optimism that an agreement to reunify the island could be at hand.
But any settlement will require an agreement on Cyprus’s future security, with key players Greece, Turkey and former colonial power Britain needing to sign on.
The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.
And a key sticking point remains the presence of some 30,000 Turkish troops in the north of the island.
Ankara and Akinci have insisted that some Turkish military presence is essential for Turkish Cypriots to feel safe in a prospective united country.
Anastasiades on Friday restated his position that a timeline must be agreed for those troops to eventually withdraw.
And Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said there can be no solution to the four-decade division of Cyprus while Turkish “occupation” troops remain.
“A just solution (to division) means, first of all, eliminating what caused it, namely the occupation and presence of occupation forces,” Kotzias said, according to a ministry statement as he left Geneva.
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that a full withdrawal of Turkish troops from northern Cyprus was “out of the question”.
He said in televised remarks that Athens and Greek Cypriots still have “different expectations” from their Turkish and Turkish Cypriot counterparts on resolving the Cyprus problem.
UN envoy Espen Barth Eide cautioned that discussions on security had just begun and that the subject was “emotional” for all sides.
He insisted that efforts to end one of the world’s longest running political crises would not be derailed over a temporary war of words.
– ‘Cannot create winners and losers’ –
Despite the roadblocks ahead, Anastasiades said the two sides were “on a path that creates hope” and that compromise was key.
“A solution cannot create winners and leave losers (in its wake). If we want it to be viable and durable, all must understand, Greek and Turkish Cypriots alike, that a fine balance must be struck,” he told reporters in Geneva.
Earlier in the week, the rival sides tackled thorny domestic questions like the composition of a unified government and land swaps.
In another first, they exchanged maps late Wednesday detailing their visions of how internal boundaries should be redrawn.
Turkish Cypriot leaders have agreed in principle to return some of the land they have controlled since the failed 1974 coup.
The Greek Cypriot government said that the maps met the terms agreed during previous negotiations that foresees the Turkish Cypriot zone amounting to a maximum of 29.2 percent of the island, although disputes remain and a final version has not been agreed.
New UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who hosted the conference in Geneva on his first foreign trip at the helm of the world body, said a final deal was “close” but warned against expecting a “quick fix”.