UN chief urges Cypriot leaders to make real headway soon

The United Nations Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon has once more expressed his disappointment at the “frustratingly slow” pace of Cyprus peace talks and urged Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders to make real progress by early next year.

The UN chief pointed out in a progress report released on Thursday that the political environment in the second quarter of 2011 will not be conducive to constructive negotiations, as parliamentary elections in the Greek Cypriot south are scheduled for May, while elections will be held in Turkey in June.

In any society, said Ban, intense political moments such as elections are rarely a time for compromises or flexibility.

“I fear a critical window of opportunity is rapidly closing… there is a serious risk that the negotiations could founder fatally,” warned the UN chief.

Cyprus was split into Greek Cypriot south and Turkish Cypriot north when Turkish troops landed on the island in 1974 in response to a coup by Greek army officers.

The leaders of Cyprus’ two rival communities have met 88 times since September 2008 in the UN-controlled buffer zone in Nicosia. The renewed negotiations have achieved limited progress on the issues of governance, power-sharing and relations with the European Union (EU), but have been stuck on the thorny issue of properties abandoned by about 170,000 Greek Cypriot refugees, who fled the north of island in the wake of the Turkish military intervention.

Ban Ki-moon visited the divided island last February and invited the two leaders last week to UN headquarters to push the stagnating reunification talks.

The UN chief urged the two leaders to be fully prepared with a practical plan for overcoming major remaining disagreements before the three meet again on January 25 or 26 in Geneva.

He also encouraged the leaders to jointly deliver more ” constructive and harmonized messages” to their respective community, thus enhance public trust and support for the peace process.

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