Cyprus peace talks called off

2017-02-22 16:04
UN envoy Espen Barth Eide. (Petros Karadjias, AP File )

UN envoy Espen Barth Eide. (Petros Karadjias, AP File )

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Nicosia - A planned meeting between rival Cypriot leaders scheduled for Thursday has been called off as a war of words over a nationalist commemoration in Greek Cypriot schools threatens reunification talks.

There was no immediate statement from the United Nations, which has been hosting the talks, but the Cyprus government said that Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades had been informed on Wednesday that the meeting would not go ahead.

The row threatens nearly two years of UN-backed negotiations on ending the island's decades-old division that many had seen as the best chance for a settlement since Greek Cypriots rejected a UN reunification plan in 2004.

A meeting last Thursday broke up in acrimony with Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akinci accusing each other of walking out.

UN envoy Espen Barth Eide had voiced confidence that this week's meeting in Nicosia would go ahead regardless, but the climate of trust between the two leaders has deteriorated.

The head of the UN peacekeeping force on the island, Elizabeth Spehar, had shuttled between the two sides to try to broker a compromise, meeting Akinci on Tuesday and Anastasiades on Wednesday but to no avail.

Anastasiades said the meeting's cancellation was regrettable and that he remained ready to return to the table.

"I regret the decision of Mr Akinci not to attend the meeting tomorrow. I am ready to continue the dialogue at anytime," he said on Twitter.

Akinci's spokesperson also confirmed the cancellation.

Tensions have soared over the February 10 approval by the Cyprus parliament for Greek Cypriot schools to commemorate a 1950 referendum on "Enosis", or union with Greece.

The unofficial referendum - staged before Cyprus won independence from colonial ruler Britain - overwhelmingly approved Enosis, but had no legal value.

Almost 96% of the majority Greek Cypriots signed up in favour of union with "motherland" Greece in the poll held in churches and coffee shops, according to its organisers, the Cyprus Greek Orthodox Church.

The amendment to schools legislation, sponsored by the far-right Greek nationalist ELAM party, essentially calls for secondary students to mark the anniversary by learning about the referendum and the Enosis cause.

'Mistaken decision' 

Akinci's spokesperson said he was ready to return to the negotiating table, but that steps first needed to be taken to overturn the amendment.

"I hope that in the shortest time the necessary steps are taken and a new date is set," the spokesperson said.

"We expect concrete steps at a political and administrative level to invalidate this mistaken decision... I hope that Anastasiades will make the necessary contributions to overcome this problem."

Akinci had warned on Monday that he could not continue the talks without action on an issue he said had caused "public indignation" among Turkish Cypriots.

"The Greek Cypriot leader should give a clear message to the Turkish Cypriot people and to the world that he does not support this decision," he said.

But Anastasiades retorted that Akinci was threatening the whole talks process on the pretext of a "minor" issue.

"It will be the first time in the history of the negotiations that for a meaningless, minor incident the dialogue will be interrupted," the Greek Cypriot leader said on Tuesday.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.

Anastasiades heads the island's internationally recognised government. Akinci heads a breakaway administration which is recognised only by Turkey.

Read more on:    nicos anastasiades  |  turkey  |  cyprus  |  greece

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