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Last Updated: Friday, 21 March 2008, 20:07 GMT
Cyprus peace back on the agenda
By Tabitha Morgan
BBC News, Nicosia

Cypriot President Demetris Christofias (right) and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat (left) shake hands
The diplomatic wheels are suddenly turning again in Cyprus
Seldom can Cyprus have witnessed such a swift mood swing.

A month ago, ahead of presidential elections, many people were predicting more years of diplomatic inactivity.

Now Cypriots face the prospect of a new round of substantive talks, beginning in three months' time.

What seemed impossible four weeks ago suddenly seems possible.

The difference came with the victory of Demetris Christofias in the presidential election.

He said right away that he wanted to meet Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat to start talks aimed at reunifying the island.

The diplomatic wheels, motionless for years, began to move fast.

map
We want to underline what we agree on, not what we disagree on
Demetris Christofias
Cypriot President

The result was Friday's three-hour meeting at the official residence of the United Nations' representative on the island, Michael Moller.

President Christofias and Mr Talat, both leaders of left-wing parties, have known each other for a long time.

Their body language before and after the meeting indicated a rapport that has been absent between senior representatives of the two communities for some years.

The atmosphere was "very positive and cordial" during the meeting, according to Mr Moller, while the talks were businesslike.

The two men agreed to set up working groups and technical committees to prepare the agenda for substantive talks later in the year.

'A new era'

When the meeting ended, it was immediately clear that the leaders were happy with the way things had gone.

"We have agreed to work together in good will. We want to underline what we agree on, not what we disagree on," Mr Christofias said.

Ledra Street, Cyprus
Ledra Street in Nicosia has been cut in two since the 1960s

Mr Talat spoke of "a new era" in relations between the two communities, adding that he and Mr Christofias were "starting for a solution of the Cyprus problem".

The widely expected announcement to reopen Ledra Street was intended to foster reconciliation and encourage a positive climate for the forthcoming negotiations.

Ledra Street, in the middle of the old walled city of Nicosia, has been cut in two since the 1960s, when violence erupted between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.

Before the thoroughfare was blocked in the middle, with military posts on either side of the line dividing Nicosia, Ledra Street was at the centre of the island's leading shopping district. But its fortunes declined with the division of the capital.

Plans to reopen Ledra Street were rejected by President Christofias' predecessor, Tassos Papadopoulos.

Good omen

The fact that an agreement has been reached on this issue a month into the new presidency is an indication of how the mood in Cyprus has changed.

When Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly rejected the UN-sponsored plan to reunite Cyprus in 2004, many observers felt the chance for a solution to the island's problems had gone for ever.

UN sign on a board behind barbed wire at the UN buffer zone in Cyprus
UN peacekeeping troops arrived on Cyprus in 1964

Now, while many obstacles remain, there is hope once more that an agreement might be reached.

British High Commissioner Peter Millett said Friday's meeting provided "a clear sign that the two leaders have the political will to tackle the issues and work for a solution".

Finding that solution is expected to be a difficult process.

Issues such as the return of refugees, the presence of the Turkish army and Turkish settlers in the north of the island, and the control of territory have sunk previous diplomatic initiatives.

But on this occasion the two main actors appear to be reading from the same script.

So if goodwill is a key factor for success, then this latest round of talks should have more chance than many previous ones.

Perhaps the best omen ahead of Friday's first meeting at the UN residence came in a quip from President Christofias as he walked towards the entrance.

Asked by a reporter whether he would be drinking Greek or Turkish coffee during the discussions he replied: "Cypriot coffee, we will both be having Cypriot coffee."

Nicosia map



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