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Leaders of divided Cyprus resolve new try at power-sharing deal

Cyprus' President Nicos Anastasiades arrives at a European Union leaders summit at the EU council headquarters in Brussels December 20, 2013
Cyprus' President Nicos Anastasiades arrives at a European Union leaders summit at the EU council headquarters in Brussels December 20, 2013

By Michele Kambas

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Leaders of ethnically split Cyprus agreed to press anew to forge a system of power sharing on Tuesday to end a bitter and long-running conflict that is frustrating Turkey's hopes of joining the EU and complicating its relations with Greece.

Representatives of the island's two largest ethnic groups, Greeks and Turks, said they would relaunch talks to create a two-zone federation reuniting the island, which has been split for decades.

"The leaders expressed their determination to resume structured negotiations in a results-oriented manner," Lisa Buttenheim, the resident United Nations envoy on the island, read from a joint statement at a news conference.

She was flanked on either side by Nicos Anastasiades, president of the internationally recognized Cypriot government, and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu.

The joint statement did not differ significantly from previous proclamations on an aspired peace deal on the Mediterranean island, but sought to clarify the basic principles of a settlement which have been the subject of acrimony in the past.

Diplomatic sources said the United States had been instrumental in getting the two sides to meet after months of haggling.

Hailing the breakthrough, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said his special advisor for Cyprus, former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer, decided to step down after five years on the job to take up a new, unspecified position.

The European Commission said Tuesday's joint statement set a "solid foundation" for a resumption of the talks and an eventual deal.

Peace talks stalled in mid-2012. Buttenheim said the leaders would try to reach a solution "as soon as possible" but did not specify a deadline on when talks should end.

PITFALLS AHEAD

Anastasiades and Eroglu will now leave key negotiators to thrash out the minutiae of any deal, which is when the talks have typically floundered.

"What is needed is vision, and the decisiveness of leaders and the people of Cyprus to restore trust, and achieve a solution where there will be no winners or losers," Anastasiades said in a statement issued by his office.

In addition to overcoming mistrust from a public jaded by seeing peace initiatives come and go, Anastasiades will also have to overcome dissent in his centre-right administration.

A junior coalition partner is threatening to quit, accusing him of being a sellout, while the island's main opposition Communist party has come out in support of Anastasiades.

Broad consensus in the coalition is needed to push reforms through ensure the island sticks to a 10 billion euro ($14 billion) economic adjustment program with international lenders.

Cyprus's Greek and Turkish Cypriots have been estranged since 1974, when Turkey invaded the island's north after a brief Greek-inspired coup, though the seeds of partition were sown years earlier, soon after independence from Britain in 1960.

Power sharing, redrawing property boundaries and the claims of thousands of displaced persons are key issues in the conflict. Any agreement must be put to separate referendums in the two communities.

Talks take place in a United Nations compound which once served as the island's main international airport, settled on a plateau overlooking Nicosia, Cyprus's divided capital.

The crumbling facade of the airport's terminal, now locked up, was visible from the talks complex with the bullet-riddled shell of a Cyprus Airways aircraft abandoned during fighting in 1974.

Cyprus's partition is a headache for the European Union. The island is represented in the EU by its Greek Cypriot side, which has veto-wielding rights over Turkey's wish to join the bloc.

Britain, Cyprus's former colonial master and which is a guarantor of the island's independence with Greece and Turkey, said the deal was an important step forward.

"Their continued pragmatism and willingness to find a solution will be vital in the months ahead to ensure that the reunification of Cyprus becomes reality," British Prime Minister David Cameron said in a statement issued by the British embassy in Nicosia.

($1 = 0.7327 euros)

(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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