Crossing to reopen in heart of divided Nicosia
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Rival Cypriot leaders agreed on Friday to meet again in three months in an effort to reunite the divided island. In a first symbolic gesture, they agreed to reopen the blocked Ledra street in Nicosia.(Report: J Jackson)
Rival Cypriot leaders met on Friday and agreed to begin fully fledged talks on the future of the divided island in three months, with both men saying they aimed to find a solution quickly.
The meeting was the first between new Cypriot President Demetris Christofias, whose election in February sparked a new drive for a solution to the 34-year division, and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat.
In a show of goodwill, both men agreed to reopen a landmark street running through the heart of Europe's last divided capital to kickstart the peace drive, according to a joint statement read out by the UN representaive, Michael Moller.
The Ledra Street crossing in the centre of Nicosia, "will as soon as technically possible open and function in accordance with the established practices at other crossings," he said.
Officials in Nicosia said the crossing in the heart of the shopping district could be open within a week.
Advisors from both sides of the divided island are to meet next week to form working groups and technical committees to set agendas for future talks, the statement said.
"The leaders... agreed to meet three months from now to review the work of the working groups and technical committees and using their results to start fully feldged negotiations under the auspices of the secretary general of the United Nations," it said.
The two leaders stood side by side at the end of a three-hour meeting at Moller's residence in the UN-patrolled Green Zone that divides the island.
Hailing "a new era" in relations between the two communities, Talat told reporters: "We want to solve the Cyprus problem as soon as possible. Our position is (to do that) by the end of 2008."
Christofias replied: "We will try our utmost to come to an agreed solution in the interests of the Cypriot people as soon as possible.
"The results (of the working committees) will help both of us to launch a fully fledged dialogue. We have to be optimistic. We have agreed to work together with goodwill, and I hope Mr Talat and Christofias, old friends, will not become enemies," said the Cypriot president, referring to himself in the third person.
"We are starting to find a solution to the Cyprus problem as soon as possible," said Talat.
"We are not avoiding any meetings or coming together before this time (three months). We discussed procedure.... we didn't mention anything about the basis or the parameters of the solution."
Christofias was keen to point out: "We want to underline what we agree on and not what we disagree on. We shall examine any possible disagreement together."
Moller described the meeting as "very positive and cordial" and said the two leaders had achieved "a great degree of convergence".
Cyprus's former colonial ruler Britain hailed the return to talks after four years of deadlock under former Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos.
"The meeting between the leaders of the two communities is a step towards real progress in the region and demonstrates the sort of leadership needed to reunite Cyprus," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said.
British ambassador Peter Millett said it was "an important first step towards negotiation on the key issues which we hope will lead to reunification of the island.
"It is a clear sign that the two leaders have the political will to tackle the issues and work for a solution," he added.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops occupied its northern third following an Athens-engineered coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece.
Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan proposed a plan that would have ended the division, while offering a significant degree of autonomy to both sides. The plan was rejected by Greek Cypriots but accepted by Turkish Cypriots in 2004 referendums.
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