Could The Divided Island Of Cyprus Reunite?

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Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres (center) makes a statement Thursday. He is flanked by Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci (left) and Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades (right) in Geneva, Switzerland.

The U.N. Secretary-General said today he was hopeful that peace talks on Cyprus, being held in Geneva, could lead to a breakthrough, though he cautioned that "we are not here for a quick fix."

Flanked by Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades, Secretary-General António Guterres said a breakthrough is what the world needs now.

"We are facing so many situations of disasters. We badly need a symbol of hope. I strongly believe Cyprus can be the symbol of hope at the beginning of 2017," Guterres added.

The island in the Mediterranean has been divided since 1974, when "Turkish troops invaded following a Greek-backed coup," as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

The Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities are separated by a U.N. buffer zone, and "many attempts to reunite the island have failed," Michele adds.

But this past week has seen two significant events that may indicate a changing climate for peace.

This is first time that the so-called "guarantor powers" – Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom – have participated in the talks. Their foreign ministers attended today's discussions.

It's also the first time the two sides have exchanged proposed maps. These talks aim to create a federation composed of two states, one representing the Greek Cypriot community and the other representing the Turkish Cypriot community. The two sides are therefore proposing where to draw the administrative boundary between the two states on the map.

The boundary proposals will be locked in a U.N. vault and not presented publicly "because of the extreme sensitivity of the issue," Espen Barth Eide, special adviser to the secretary-general on Cyprus, told reporters yesterday.

During his remarks, Eide outlined just how emotionally charged these issues are. On the Greek Cypriot side, there's the "historical trauma" of "the loss of land and property where people used to live." On the Turkish Cypriot side, there are "a number of people that have been living their lives normally for generations ... in exactly the same place, people who themselves might have been displaced in the south, who have established new lives."

But he says that the week has seen significant progress already. "We have dealt with some of the most difficult issues," he said. "We have touched upon almost all of them. We have solved many of them, and we are close to resolving some other issues."

Any peace plan would need to be approved in referendums by each side.

One major unresolved issue is what will happen to the property that Greek Cypriots fled from in 1974, the BBC explained: "Should they get the right to take their old homes back, or be compensated – and if so by how much?"

Questions surrounding security were a focus of today's discussions. As the BBC put it: "How can the security of the Turkish Cypriots be guaranteed if Turkey's estimated 30,000 troops leave? Greek Cypriots see them as an occupying force, so should some stay or should Turkey retain the right to intervene?"

Eide stressed that this current moment presents the "best chance" for peace, and the climate is unlikely to get better:

"There is simply nothing in the trend lines that I see internationally that suggests that the world is getting more constructive, that people are coming together more, that problems are more easily overcome, that we get a world leadership that is more helpful, so I don't really see what we would be gaining from waiting."

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