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Cyprus Frustrated by Pace of Negotiations

In an interview with VOA News, the foreign minister of the Republic of Cypus has said that the United Nations-brokered reunification process in Cyprus is proving to be slow and difficult. Markos Kyprianou’s comments come as U.N. attempts to re-unite the divided island enter their third year.

Attempts to reunite this island have been ongoing since the mid 1970's, with the latest round of talks being launched in 2008.

The island has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the island in response to a coup in Nicosia by supporters of a union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes the Turkish Cypriot northern administration. It has kept more than 35,000 troops in the sector.

Speaking to VOA, the foreign minister of the Republic of Cypus says it has become increasingly obvious, amid slow negotiations, that the process is proving difficult for both communities in Cyprus.

"Well, very slowly and with difficulty, we have to be honest about that,” Kyprianou said. “They are not moving as quickly as there is not the progress we were hoping for."

In a belated attempt to push negotiations forward, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon met the leaders of the two communities, in November, and appealed for talks to be accelerated before they founder fatally.

"Both leaders have told me they recognize the need to move more quickly and decisively in order to reach a settlement. Serious differences remain, but both leaders expressed their commitment to work together as partners towards that goal," he said.

The big stumbling block, from the beginning, has been the issue of property, with nearly 200,000 Greek Cypriot refugees isolated from their homes by the Turkish control of the northern sector of the island.

In addition, economic issues, governance and power sharing have all been discussed without any concrete outcome.

Negotiators from the two sides are desperately struggling to produce any progress, after more than two years of trying, with the United Nations officials continuously saying they are cautiously optimistic.

"Despite the fact that there were two postponed leaders meetings, nowadays it seems the lie that everything is going very well. The January two-leaders meetings are scheduled for the 12th and 19th and, of course, their representative meetings are planned as well," Captain Tomas Dano, the U.N. spokesman in Nicosia said.

However critics have suggested the U.N. representatives want to draw up unrealistic targets for the negotiations, after being left without anything significant to announce since the process began.

Few doubt that Mr. Ban is committed to solving this issue. He is aware that any breakthrough could mark a defining moment of his term in office; with the previous four U.N. secretary’s general having failed to crack the elusive Cyprus stalemate.

Kyprianou brushes aside claims that Mr. Ban's personal involvement is a sign of the growing international frustration with the situation, which has remained almost unchanged since 1974.

"I think it demonstrates more the willingness on the part of the secretary general to be more involved in the process, not just through his representatives on the island, yes and to indirectly exercise a bit of pressure to the two sides, I think that's quite acceptable in this situation," Kyprianou said.

The two leaders will meet with Mr. Ban for further talks at the end of January in Geneva, where he is expected to amplify the message that progress must be forthcoming. In a report to the Security Council last month Mr. Ban warned that "a critical window of opportunity is rapidly closing".

The question for Mr. Ban is how long he can go on without something tangible.

A breakthrough in Cyprus is important for Turkey, because the divided island has become the main obstacle in its efforts to push its bid to join the European Union.