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Pressure mounts for Cyprus peace deal

Progress is slow at talks aimed at reuniting Cyprus, so UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is arriving on the island on Sunday to inject some momentum.

Mr Ban will meet leaders of both communities, but time may be running out to find a solution, the BBC's Europe correspondent Jonny Dymond reports.

Flags in Nicosia
The flags of the two sides fly above divided Ledra Street in Nicosia

On the southern side of the Ledra Street crossing, in the centre of Cyprus' divided capital Nicosia, many of the strange paradoxes of this frozen conflict are played out on a chilly evening.

A group of peace activists, agitating for progress in the reunification talks, gather beneath home-painted banners.

They all appear to be veterans of previous gatherings; there are very few under the age of 30.

Tourists peruse the shop opposite; a stall outside displays "Cyprus Delight" - a product known everywhere else in the world as "Turkish Delight".

Don't waste your breath asking for a "Turkish" coffee in the (Greek Cypriot) Republic of Cyprus.

Twenty metres away the crossing itself gives both the illusion of normality - it takes less than half a minute to amble from North to South - and the reality of division. There are passport checks at either end of the slim connecting street.

How long, one wonders, can the strange theatre of the Ledra Street crossing run for?

Never before have the stars been so favourably aligned for a settlement of this frozen conflict; never before have all four players - the Republic of Cyprus, the self-declared and internationally unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Greece and Turkey - been so keen on a settlement.

And yet, on the eve of a visit from the UN secretary general, there is deep gloom amongst observers about the reunification talks.

Looming deadline?

Progress has been grindingly slow.

Whilst agreement appears near on one dossier - governance - others such as territory and property, let alone security, seem way out of reach.

And if there is no deal soon - very soon - then it may be years before there is any chance of starting realistic negotiations again.

Map

The north will hold elections in April. Mehmet Ali Talat, the north's "president" (only Turkey recognises him as such) is trailing in opinion polls.

In Ataturk Square, in the sleepy (Turkish Cypriot) north of Nicosia, campaigning has just started.

Towering over the pigeons and the men drinking tea and coffee in the thin sunshine, a poster of the nationalist candidate, Dervis Eroglu, covers most of one wall of his party's headquarters.

Mr Eroglu, says one senior diplomat well acquainted with the talks, would be "disastrous" for the chances of a settlement.

But Turkish Cypriots are weary with a reunification process that has gone nowhere, weary with the lack of reward for their "yes" vote in the 2004 referendum on reunification, and weary with an economy that resolutely refuses to provide decent jobs.

Unless a really big rabbit can be pulled out of the negotiations hat very soon, Mr Talat is probably heading for the exit.

"Why should anyone care," asks a Turkish diplomat, "about another frozen conflict?" - although he seems to know the answer full well.

On Cyprus hang Turkey's hopes for membership of the European Union. No deal, no membership.

The Republic of Cyprus - and those always uncomfortable with the idea of Turkish EU membership - will see to that.

At the Ledra Street crossing the next evening, the players take their places again - another peace protest, tourists finger embroidered tea towels, passport officers dawdle while smoking cigarettes.

Both ludicrous and depressing, this play feels like it has many more nights to run.

Jonny Dymond's report from Cyprus will be broadcast on Radio 4's The World This Weekend at 1300 GMT on Sunday 31 January.



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