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Cyprus Leaders Discuss Property Rights

During a meeting that took place in the buffer zone that divides this island, Rival Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders seeking a solution to reunify Cyprus began discussions on the thorny issue of property rights.

The property dispute involves thousands of Cypriot citizens who stake a claim on houses, hotels and businesses seized by Turkish forces during the 1974 hostilities, which left the Mediterranean island divided.

U.N. peacekeeping force spokesman Jose Luis Diaz told VOA News the meeting was productive and stressed that every issue on the leader's agenda is complex.

"All the issues are practically quite complex. It is difficult to say which one is the most difficult. At the U.N. we have been here for 45 years now working on these issues, so we fully expect this to be complex and challenging, but the important thing we feel is that their [the leaders] obviously committed to seeing this process through," he said.

There are many other sensitive subjects that are being discussed in these talks, including governance, those displaced after the 1974 Turkish invasion and the presence of more than 30,000 Turkish troops in northern Cyprus.

Turkish Cypriots have complained in recent months that the talks, which started in September last year, are moving at a sluggish pace and they want the United Nations to set a time frame. Diaz told VOA that the United Nations does not intend to impose calendar for a conclusion of the talks.

"There is no time frame, I think everybody wants to see it come to a conclusion relatively quickly or as soon as possible, in any case this year presents a very good opportunity to make progress on reaching a settlement," he said.

In a separate development, a Turkish judge said he has opened an investigation into a popular television actor who said he killed a Greek Cypriot prisoner-of-war during Turkey's 1974 invasion of Cyprus.

Actor Atilla Olgac made the confession on a live TV talk show, but later retracted his comment. The remarks have caused outrage in both Cyprus and Turkey, with Greek Cypriot authorities demanding a full investigation.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded the north in response to a military coup on the island that was backed by the Athens government.

South Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004 and the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is only recognized by Turkey.