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'Peace Deal Is Difficult, But Not Impossible' For Cyprus

Talks to end the decades-long division of Cyprus have begun at the United Nations in Geneva.The island’s two leaders are meeting face to...

Talks to end the decades-long division of Cyprus have begun at the United Nations in Geneva.

The island’s two leaders are meeting face to face for 3 days of discussions about possible reunification.

If all goes to plan then Turkey, Greece and Britain could join them for further talks at the end of the week.

United Nations envoy Espen Barth Eide told a news conference:

“The leaders are showing a lot of courage, a lot of will” adding that to get a deal would be “difficult but not impossible.”

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and took the North, after a Greek-inspired coup.

A 100-mile buffer zone between the Greek and Turkish Cyprus is patrolled by UN peacekeeping troops, many of them British.

The UK still has almost 100 square miles of sovereign territory on Cyprus for two military bases which could form part of any negotiations.

During peace talks in 2004 the UK offered to hand over almost half of the land, and in October the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told a committee of MPs:

“We are willing to cede some of that territory that we don’t need to help move the process forward and that’s a good thing.”

But on a visit to Cyprus Mr Johnson also made clear that the status of the sovereign bases is not up for negotiation.

Akrotiri, on the south coast, is a vital hub for British operations in the Middle-East.

Currently, it is effectively the home of Operation Shader, the fight against the ‘Islamic State’ terror group.

Dhekelia, which sits on the Eastern end of the UN buffer zone, could prove vital in any redrawing of the map.

Ahead of the talks the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called this a ‘historic opportunity’ for a breakthrough.

The fact that the leaders of Greek and Turkish Cyprus are talking face to face is a historic breakthrough itself, but there are still many more hurdles to overcome.

While there is clearly will on both sides this is a limited political window in which difficult questions will have to be answered.

Would any Turkish troops remain, if not how would the security of Turkish Cypriot’s be guaranteed; what will happen to homes and property lost by Cypriots in the 1974 split; in a new federal arrangement how should territory be split?

If a plan can be agreed by all parties, there are still two more hurdles to overcome, referendums in each part of Cyprus which must both back the deal.

A proposal in 2004 was accepted in the Turkish North, but rejected in the Greek South.

There is clearly significant momentum towards a deal, but observers warn if these talks fail to deliver it could be years before there is another real chance.

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