Turk-Greek Cypriots agree to start new peace process

Turk-Greek Cypriots agree to start new peace process

Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders agreed on Friday to relaunch reunification talks in three months and to open a new crossing point in Ledra Street, a busy pedestrian thoroughfare in the heart of Nicosia. (UPDATED)

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Experts say establishing a connection at the core of Europe's last divided capital would be of practical as well as psychological and symbolic importance. The leaders also hailed the Friday's meeting as "the beginning of a new era".

It was the first meeting between Christofias and Talat since the Greek leader's election victory last month and raised hopes for reviving talks that are also crucial for Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

"This is a new era we are starting for the solution of the Cyprus problem. Our target is to find a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem as soon as possible," Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat told reporters after meeting with Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias.

Christofias said they are optimistic and agreed that both leaders shall work together in good will. "I look forward ... to having in three months' time results which will help both of us have a dialogue under the auspices of the Secretary General," Christofias told reporters.

Peace talks have been on hold since 2004, when Turkish Cypriots accepted but Greek Cypriot voters rejected a U.N. reunification plan shortly before joining the European Union.

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UN Secretary General's special envoy to Cyprus Michael Moller said the leaders agreed to open a crossing point in Ledra Street. The opening of Ledra gate is expected boost confidence and improve the atmosphere for the difficult negotiations ahead on substantive issues.

Reading from a joint statement issued by Christofias and Talat, Moller said "The leaders have also agreed that Ledra Street will as soon as technically possible open and function in accordance with the established practices at other crossings."

He added the two sides had agreed to set up committees to discuss issues and the two leaders would then meet in three months to examine progress and then start full-fledged negotiations.

Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974 after Turkey's military intervention in response to an Athens-engineered Greek Cypriot coup in Nicosia aimed at uniting the island with Greece.

 

LEDRA EXPECTED TO OPEN MARCH 31ST
The Ledra Gate will be the sixth crossing point opened since April 2003 when Turkish Cypriots for the first time lifted entry restrictions for Greek Cypriots.

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Christofias said "This opening is very welcome. By tradition it is the heart of Nicosia, the heart of the people of Nicosia. It will bring further communication with people in order to reduce the gap in the soul and heart of the people."

Nicosia's Greek Mayor Eleni Mavrou said she was hopeful the street would be reopened by the end of the month. "Technical work will begin on Monday and I'm optimistic that the crossing at Ledra Street will open by March 31," she told state radio.

The barricades were among the first erected after intercommunal violence flared in the city in 1963. At the start of 1964, UN peacekeeping troops arrived on the island and have remained ever since.

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The two sectors stand only around 50 meters apart at Ledra Street but it may take several days for the crossing to be opened as the area must be cleared of landmines and the buildings made safe after decades of neglect.

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