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Sunday, 30 December, 2001, 13:26 GMT
Cyprus to hunt for missing people
Widows protesting in southern Nicosia as Mr Denktash dined with Mr Clerides
Cyprus TV says there will be a search for mass graves
President Glafcos Clerides of Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, are reported to have resolved to take steps to locate the bodies of people missing since the partition of the island in 1974.

Both sides have missing persons - naturally both sides want this problem resolved

Rauf Denktash
The agreement is said to have come at a historic dinner on Saturday when Mr Denktash visited Mr Clerides at his home in the southern part of the divided capital city, Nicosia.

"Both sides have missing persons. Naturally both sides want this problem resolved," Mr Denktash said in comments broadcast on a Nicosia radio station on Sunday.

"It is a humanitarian matter."

Cypriot state television also said the two men had reached an "understanding" on the issue, but gave no details.

It said one of the priorities was exchange of information on the location of mass graves on both sides of the dividing line.

Widows' protest

During the dinner on Saturday at Mr Clerides' house a number of women dressed in black demonstrated nearby carrying faded pictures of missing relatives.

Rauf Denktash (left) and President Glafcos Clerides
Mr Denktash (left) said the meeting had gone well
"I have a right to know what happened to my son," one cried.

Protesters speaking at a small rally earlier said 1,600 Greek Cypriots were unaccounted for after the events 26 years ago when an Athens-engineered coup prompted Turkey to invade the island.

Some 800 Turkish Cypriots are listed missing from the inter-communal troubles going back to the early 1960s.

Mr Denktash's visit reciprocated one made by Mr Clerides to the north of the island on 5 December, one day after the two men agreed to begin face-to-face talks for the first time in four years.

The dinner diplomacy is designed to improve the atmosphere for the official talks, which are to begin on 16 January.

'Good' atmosphere

In his comments broadcast by Radio Bayrak, Mr Denktash said that a bilateral Missing Persons Committee had failed to solve a single case in the last 14 years, and that the two parties would look into it.

He said the dinner had been held in a "sincere and very good atmosphere".

There was also tight security for Mr Denktash's motorcade as it crossed through the United Nations base at Nicosia's former international airport, thus avoiding the handful of demonstrators waiting at the UN checkpoint in the centre of the capital.

The BBC's Tabitha Morgan in Cyprus says the talks themselves are likely to be difficult, with Mr Denktash still apparently seeking some kind of formal recognition for his breakaway state.

But with Cyprus due to join the European Union in 2004, our correspondent says the pressure to find a solution has never been greater.

The BBC's Nick Hawton
"Relations between the two sides... seem to be a little warmer"
See also:

31 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Cyprus
04 Dec 01 | Europe
Cyprus veterans share chemistry
03 Dec 01 | Europe
Cyprus' quiet crisis
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