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Elders Return to Divided Cyprus


A group of international statesmen known as 'The Elders,' including former U.S. president Jimmy Carter have arrived on the divided island of Cyprus to support U.N.-backed peace talks.

A group of international statesmen known as "The Elders," including former U.S. president Jimmy Carter have arrived on the divided island of Cyprus to support U.N.-backed peace talks.

The Elders, brought together by South Africa's elder statesman Nelson Mandela, have visited the island for the third time. Their return this week comes as the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat and his Greek Cypriot counterpart Dimitris Christofias held their 57th meeting in the buffer zone which divides this island.

On arrival, they praised the Cypriot leaders for their expressed commitment to end to the decades-old dispute.

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter says the group are here to actively encourage efforts to build peace, and he was confident that a deal between the two leaders was close.

"I base my optimism on two things: one is that the two leaders, with whom we have met three times, seem to be completely determined to succeed and they are working assiduously, I think, to bring about and an accommodation on many difficult issues," said Jimmy Carter. "And the second point is that I believe that now the Cyprus people realize that the decision is in their hands - and they have a choice to either have a unified Cyprus with peace or a divided Cyprus where the divisions may even become more troublesome than they are now."

Earlier this week the Turkish prime minister had requested outside help to speed up these peace talks, which are moving at a sluggish pace. But Mr. Carter insisted that any solution must be found by Cypriots - and not foreign powers or organizations.

"I don't believe that any outside force, whether it's the United Nations, the European Union, America or Great Britain should be more active; I think it is up to the Cyprus people," he said.

There is now an element of urgency to these talks as Mehmet Ali Talat, who favors reunification and membership of the EU for all Cyprus will be facing an election in April 2010.

A candidate from the opposition National Unity Party, which favors unification with Turkey, is leading in the opinion polls and a win for them could destroy the talks.

However, Desmond Tutu has no doubt the current negotiations will succeed, saying he hopes to return to a united Cyprus next year.

TUTU: "We believe that you are on a cusp; you know it just needs a small push and you'll be there."

MORLEY: "You sound like an optimist; I mean there are many obstacles."

TUTU: "No, no. I am not an optimist, I am a prisoner of hope - it is quite different, because you see, [for an] optimist when things don't go well, they want to give up. But I and other people who are prisoners of hope are able to say that this is a world where ultimately justice will prevail."

Jimmy Carter is no stranger to Cyprus politics. He was responsible for the United States playing part in the ABC Cyprus peace plan in 1978, which failed to produce results.

The 12-point plan, called the ABC plan because of its American, British, and Canadian sponsorship, proposed a bi-regional, independent federal republic.

Cyprus was split in a 1974 Turkish invasion triggered by a Greek-inspired coup. Turkish Cypriots live in its north and Greek Cypriots in the south, and numerous attempts to reunite Cyprus have failed.