U.N.-led peace negotiations between Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders are under way in Nicosia. The talks are aimed at finding a political settlement that would enable a reunited Cyprus to join the European Union in May.
Greek-Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash began their talks in the presence of U.N. special envoy Alvaro de Soto. They decided last week at U.N. headquarters to pursue a plan to reach an agreement within a few weeks that has eluded successive teams of negotiators for nearly 30 years.
Mr. de Soto appeared confident that this latest drive to bring peace to Cyprus will succeed.
"We are either there or very close to it already in the plan that was submitted by the [U.N.] secretary-general," he said.
The plan, developed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, proposes a single state with Greek and Turkish-speaking regions in a loose confederation.
But many unresolved points will be high on the agenda. These include the difficult issue of property rights, the resettlement of ethnic-Greek refugees who fled to the south during the 1974 Turkish invasion and the presence of 40,000 Turkish troops on the island.
Just hours before the talks were scheduled to start, a small bomb exploded outside the home of Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Talat, a leading advocate of reunification. A neighbor was injured by flying glass. Mr. Talat brushed aside the attack, and vowed that the talks would go on.
This set of talks will last up to five weeks, with meetings scheduled three times a week. If the talks end with some issues still not resolved, Secretary General Annan will ask Greece and Turkey to join the negotiations.
As a final resort, the Cypriot leaders have agreed that Mr. Annan will have the authority to fill in the blanks on any outstanding issues. The final plan is to be presented to Cypriot voters in a referendum in April.
The mainly ethnic-Greek southern part of Cyprus has been approved for entry into the European Union on May 1. If the reunification is completed, the entire island will enter the European Union.
Turkey has been under pressure from the United States and the European Union to press the Turkish Cypriots to agree on a reunification plan. Success in that effort would help Turkey in its bid to join the European Union, whose leaders are to decide in December whether to begin formal membership talks with Ankara.
Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Ugur Ziyal is confident that talks will produce a peace deal between the two Cypriot communities.
"I believe the work we have started will end in a win-win situation," said Mr. Ziyal. "This will be our objective, to have a resolution of this issue, and to have the two sides live in peace, within a common state."
Many Greek Cypriots are afraid that they will be the losers in any settlement based on the U.N. plan. They argue that arrangements to restore their land and property in Northern Cyprus do not go far enough.
Veteran Greek-Cypriot politician Vassos Lyssarides, a member of the president's senior advisory council, doubts this new drive to end the division of Cyprus will achieve anything.
"We said time and time again that the plan, as it is, is not an acceptable solution," he said. "It is acceptable for negotiations. The Cyprus problem can only be solved through negotiations, so we could not refuse to negotiate on the basis of the Annan plan. But it does not mean we are ready to accept it in total."
But there is a great deal of optimism among both Greek and Turkish Cypriots that this final push for peace may succeed. People on both sides of the island have started to take a greater interest in the details of the U.N. plan.
In recent days, thousands of copies of the plan have been distributed, so people can begin to familiarize themselves with the issues, before a final document is ready for a referendum.