Leaders of ethnically divided Cyprus were to discuss territorial trade-offs, a crucial juncture in peace talks aiming for a long-elusive reunification deal that may be put to a referendum this year.
For the first time in more than a decade, Greek and Turkish Cypriots plan to submit maps to the United Nations detailing their proposals on territorial boundaries between constituent states in a two-zone federation.
The strategically located island in the eastern Mediterranean was split after a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup.
In an effort to break a logjam in the decades-old conflict, Greek Cypriot leader and President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci moved the current intensified round of peace talks – which began in 2015 – to Geneva.
Asked if the sides would be submitting maps, Anastasiades said: “I believe so …that’s the agreement.”
The island’s division has kept tension between Greece and Turkey alive and contributed to the hurdles facing Turkey’s ambitions of joining the European Union. Any adjustment would modify the existing ceasefire boundary splitting Cyprus east to west and possibly limit territory under Turkish Cypriot control from about 36 per cent to just under 30 per cent.
Past peace negotiations have seen Turkish Cypriots propose maintaining a geographical area of 29.2 per cent, with Greek Cypriots countering it with 28.2 per cent.
“We would want the maximum amount of refugees returning to their homes under Greek Cypriot control,” said a Greek Cypriot official engaged in discussions.
The 1974 invasion uprooted 165,000 Greek Cypriots, while about 40,000 Turkish Cypriots were displaced in inter-communal violence in the 1960s and a population transfer in 1975. Among the talks in Geneva will be a meeting of representatives of Greece, Britain and Turkey on Thursday to discuss security issues that could govern a deal.
The three countries are guarantor powers of Cyprus, permitting intervention to restore constitutional order under a 1960 treaty forced on the former British colony for its independence.
The guarantors are likely to be represented by foreign ministers Boris Johnson of Britain, Mevlut Cavusoglu of Turkey and Nikos Kotzias of Greece.
Turkey has 30,000 troops in northern Cyprus. Their presence will be strongly contested by the Greek side, which says a deal is not possible without them pulling out.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Wednesday talks between the two sides of the ethnically divided Cyprus represented the “very last chance” to reunite the island, and hoped they would succeed. Juncker said the current talks were the “very last chance” to reunite the island.
“It’s risky, but when it’s about peace you have to take risks. When it’s about peace, those that take no risks are taking the greater risk,” he told a news conference in the Maltese capital.
“I think the time has come to reunite the island. The leaders of the two communities were doing an excellent job and I hope that we will be able to conclude in a positive way the Geneva talks tomorrow,” Juncker said.