United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has joined the high-level Cyprus negotiations in the Swiss mountain resort of Crans-Montana, hoping his presence might help bring the sides closer toward reuniting the ethnically divided Mediterranean island.
Guterres arrived in the Valais resort on Friday as rival Cypriot leaders remain under intense pressure to strike a deal. However, after two days of talks there appears to have been no real progress on the key issue of the island’s future security that could unlock a peace accord.
On his arrival, the UN secretary-general made no declaration about the state of the negotiations, which have been billed as the best chance for lasting peace on the island.
Cyprus, a European Union member, was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974, triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. Security issues related to the presence of up to 30,000 Turkish troops in the breakaway north of the island are pivotal in the talks. Greek Cypriots perceive their ongoing presence post-settlement as a threat, while Turkish Cypriots say the troops are necessary for their security.
A diplomatic source told AFP that Ankara was prepared to cut its troop numbers by up to 80%, but Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu went on national television on Thursday to deny a planned pull-out. Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias admitted rival sides had broken no new ground on security.
President Nicos Anastasiades, the Greek Cypriot leader who heads the island's internationally recognised government, and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akinci are representing their respective communities. They are joined by delegations from Cyprus's so-called guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and Britain, assisted by the UN.
Their task remains a tough one. Successive UN-backed efforts to solve the 40-year-old stalemate have failed to reunite the island. Going into the talks, officials were optimistic that Crans-Montana may be different. UN envoy Espen Barth Eide described the Crans-Montana talks as the "best chance" for a settlement.
However, even if they strike a deal in Switzerland, any negotiated accord must be approved in twin referendums. In 2004, the last UN-brokered accord was accepted by Turkish-Cypriots but roundly rejected by the island's Greek speakers.