[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 3 July 2006, 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK
Cyprus still awaits a thaw
By Tabitha Morgan
BBC News, Nicosia

Fence at UN buffer zone dividing Nicosia
A UN buffer zone separates Greek and Turkish Cypriots
The Cypriot president and the Turkish Cypriot leader have had their first meeting for more than two years - but it failed to break the ice.

Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos said the talks had been good, but added that they had stuck to the question of missing persons. They did not touch on broader political issues.

He met Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat at the United Nations headquarters in the buffer zone dividing Nicosia.

The two men later declined to appear together in front of the waiting reporters and no date was set for another meeting.

Lost victims

On the face of it, the occasion was always meant to be ceremonial rather than politically substantial.

Mr Papadopoulos and Mr Talat came together to launch a new phase of a UN mission to search for the bodies of some 1,900 people from both communities in Cyprus who are officially designated as missing. Most were killed at the time of the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974, or in the sporadic outbreaks of ethnic violence that preceded it.

Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos (right) and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat meeting in Nicosia
Peace talks have been stalled since the 2004 referendum
Cyprus has been split into the Greek Cypriot-controlled south and the Turkish-occupied north since Turkey's invasion, in the wake of an abortive coup by supporters of union with Greece.

The highly sensitive missing persons issue has remained unresolved for decades, with each side seeking to maximise political capital from it. Now there appears at last to be a new determination by both sides to settle the matter.

But the hope of diplomats here was that when the Cypriot president and Turkish Cypriot leader were once again in the same room together they might agree to resume negotiations on the island's future.

EU bid

Talks on the reunification of Cyprus came to a halt in April 2004 when Greek Cypriots rejected a UN-sponsored plan to end three decades of division.

Today the continued partition of Cyprus has broader political implications. Turkey's progress towards European Union membership has been vastly complicated by the Cyprus problem and could even be blocked by it.

Map of Cyprus
In October the EU will assess the degree to which Turkey has complied with measures leading up to accession. These include allowing Cypriot-registered ships and planes into Turkish ports and airports.

The government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan insists that it will not lift an existing ban on Cypriot traffic unless the EU allows trade direct trade with northern Cyprus. The northern part of the island is unrecognised by any country other than Turkey and has no political or trade relations with the world at large.

With the October deadline so close diplomats admit that they cannot think of a way of eliminating the Cyprus problem from the complicated question of Turkey's EU aspirations. It was against the background of this level of desperation that diplomats were hoping something more substantial would emerge from today's meeting.

But the brief and formal encounter does not suggest that the two men will be able to offer much in the way of hope to UN Deputy Under Secretary-General Ibrahim Gambari when he arrives on the island later this week.

Mr Gambari will find that even in these hottest days of summer in Cyprus the political atmosphere remains as icy as ever.

What is the future for Cyprus? What is the significance of this meeting? Do you live in Cyprus? Send us your views using the link below:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific