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Cyprus' Rival Leaders Agree to Start Historic Reunification Talks


Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot leaders meeting in Nicosia have agreed to resume reunification talks in September to try and end the 34-year division of the Mediterranean island. The U.N. Chief of Mission in Cyprus, Taye-Brook Zerihoun, made the announcement that a breakthrough had been made after hosting a meeting between the Greek Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat. For VOA, Nathan Morley reports from Nicosia.

This was the two leaders' fourth meeting, during which they undertook a final review of technical committees and working groups, which will lay the groundwork for negotiations.

Once the upcoming negotiations are complete, Turkish and Greek Cypriots will hold separate votes on the final settlement.

U.N. spokesman Jose Diaz told VOA that Friday's events are a very positive sign for the future of Cyprus.

"Well I think today's meeting went quite smoothly, we had a very good statement coming out of the meeting, in addition to the agreement to start negotiations on the 3rd September, they also announced a series of measures that are aimed at making life easier for people on both sides of the divide," he said.

Considering that almost all contact between the two communities ended in 2004, events since the election of Demitris Christofias in February this year have moved at a fast pace.

The chemistry between Mr. Christofias and Mr. Talat is said to be "good" and the two men are seen by many in the international community as the only hope for finding a peace settlement in the Cyprus dispute, which has been ongoing since 1974.

"They have a very good relationship, which is obvious when you see them interacting and discussing, so I think that's a very important part of the progress that has been made so far and hopefully will continue to be made," said U.N. spokesman Jose Diaz.

To add some impetus to the process, the former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer recently accepted the post as the U.N. special envoy in Cyprus and will arrive on the island next week.

With his background in complex negotiations he could hold the key to future success in Cyprus.

Cyprus split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after an Athens-backed coup.

The breakaway Turkish Cypriot north is only recognized by Turkey. Reunification talks have been deadlocked since 2004, when Greek Cypriots rejected a U.N. reunification plan in a referendum. Turkish Cypriots accepted it.