Leaders of the Greek and Turkish communities of Cyprus are starting a new series of negotiations aimed at re-unifying the divided island. 

Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet-Ali Talat have begun a series of three-day sessions to attempt to hammer out differences between the two communities.

Most political observers say the fact that the two leaders are increasing their meetings does not imply that any real progress has been made since talks started in late 2008.

Rather, they say it reflects United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon's determination to keep the talks going - even though prospects for a successful outcome seem unlikely.

Alexander Downer, the Australian diplomat acting as the U.N. special representative on the island, under whose auspices the talks are being staged, expressed optimism the talks will be productive.

"I can only tell you that what we the United Nations look to is the two sides having open and very frank discussions about all of the facets of governance and power sharing and that is what is happening and so we are happy with the way the two leaders are conducting the negotiations," he said.

Since the resumption of the talks, the United Nations has hailed what it calls the "progress" achieved so far and the common ground between the parties.  However, few details of these achievements have been made public.

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

Opinion polls in the Turkish controlled north suggest Mr. Talat will be defeated by hardliners, who are unhappy with the talks and want a two-state solution and not the bi-zonal, bi-communal federation now being negotiated.

Mr. Talat is deeply unpopular in northern Cyprus, where unemployment is high and the population depends solely on Turkey for financial and military support.

In recent days, Greek Cypriot government partners and opposition parties have cast even deeper gloom over the talks, with most party leaders publicly stating they think the process will fail.

The representatives of the two sides are now engaged in intensive negotiations, however, tackling only two major themes at each meeting.

The two leaders have held 60 meetings since September 2008, and will resume talks in ten days.

The United Nations included a Cyprus peace deal in its Millennium Development Goals, saying they would pursue peace with "vigor."

Turkey's bid to join the European Union hinges on a peace deal in Cyprus.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded the northern part of the island in response to a military coup that was backed by the Greek government. 

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