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UN Envoy Upbeat About Cyprus Peace

Greek Cypriot leader, President Demetris Christofias (l) and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu (r) shake hands in front of Former Australian Foreign Minister and present UN Special Envoy for Cyprus Alexander Downer in the Cypriot capital of Nicosia, Ma

The U.N. envoy overseeing the Cyprus peace negotiations said he believes there is a chance of breaking the deadlock in peace talks between the rival Greek and Turkish communities on the Mediterranean island.

Attempts to reunite Cyprus have been ongoing for more than 30 years, with the latest round of talks launched in 2008. Despite intensive sessions, however, they have failed to gain momentum.

Some observers say the negotiations between President Demetris Christofias, who heads the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot government and Turkish-Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu are moving too slowly, and are in jeopardy of collapse.

But U.N.-appointed Cyprus mediator and a former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer told VOA he continues to remain upbeat about prospects for a breakthrough.

"The differences between them [the Greek and Turkish Cypriots] are not beyond resolution. Now, that is not to say it is not proving to be incredibly difficult to get agreement across all of the chapters, but certainly I still believe that it is possible to conclude an agreement here, but that requires a lot of political courage. Nobody can want this agreement more than the Cypriots themselves," Downer said.

Cyprus was split in a 1974 Turkish invasion triggered by a Greek-inspired coup, since then Turkish Cypriots live in its north and Greek Cypriots in the south. The division left nearly 200,000 Greek Cypriot refugees isolated from their homes by the Turkish control of the northern sector of the island.

The property abandoned by displaced Greek Cypriots has been occupied by settlers from mainland Turkey; it’s this problem that is causing the biggest headache for the United Nations.

Downer said significant progress has been made in other areas, though, such as about how the two communities will share power. He admits that much work remains on issues, including the territorial boundaries, especially in the event that oil or gas is discovered offshore.

"Remember what is being looked at here - what’s being negotiated is a federation, so obviously in that sense the coastline is split between two states - two state government jurisdictions, but of course it is within the federation itself. So I suspect if Cyprus were to re-unite then the bounty that would come from any offshore resource development would be shared throughout the island," said Downer.

The internally recognized Republic of Cyprus will begin exploratory drilling for gas in six months and hopes to have an estimate of its natural-gas fields by next year. It is a decision that has irked the Turkish-Cypriot community.

"I think this is a different question if Cyprus does not reunite, I suspect in those circumstances the Turkish Cypriots will say they should be included in this bounty and the Greek Cypriots may have another view, may, that is not to say they would," said Downer.

The island joined the European Union in 2004, but only the south has membership benefits. A breakthrough in Cyprus is important for Turkey, because the divided island has become one of the main obstacles in its efforts to push its bid to join the European Union.