GENEVA: A deal to end decades of division in Cyprus is close, UN chief Antonio Guterres said on Thursday (Jan 12), as he led a crunch meeting on solving one of the world's longest-running political rows.
Guterres was on his first foreign trip as the United Nations' secretary general hoping for a breakthrough at a Geneva conference that involves rival Cypriot sides as well as Greece, Turkey and former colonial power Britain.
The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.
Thursday's talks follow three days of negotiations between Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci aiming to forge a united, two-zone federation.
"We are coming very close to what is the settlement," Guterres told reporters during a pause in negotiations.
But, he added that major work remained on how to implement and guarantee a lasting peace.
"You cannot expect miracles of immediate solutions. We are not looking for a quick fix," he said. "We are looking for a solid sustainable solution."
Guterres, in office since Jan 1, was hosting top diplomats from Cyprus's so-called "guarantor powers", including British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, and his counterparts Nikos Kotzias of Greece and Turkey's Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Under a 1959 treaty, those nations were allowed to intervene to defend the island's sovereign integrity, which Ankara used to justify its invasion.
Changes to or the possible elimination of the guarantor power arrangement has emerged as a key issue at the talks, along with the presence of some 30,000 Turkish troops on the island.
The Greek foreign minister restated Athens' position that the guarantor system should be scrapped and told reporters that Turkish troops should leave Cyprus on "a timeline agreed in advance."
Anastasiades also wants the Turkish troops out but Akinci is determined to keep a military presence.
Britain has also said it was happy to do away with guarantor system if Cypriots asked, while Turkey insisted the arrangement must be preserved.
"Taking into consideration the current situation in our region, continuation of the Security and Guarantees system ... is a necessity," Cavusoglu told the conference, according to a speech released from his office.
Meanwhile, in the island's capital Nicosia, some 200 Greek Cypriots protesting outside the presidential palace chanted "Turkish troops out of Cyprus".
Georges Colocassides, a Greek Cypriot lawyer, said even negotiating the presence of foreign troops was "unacceptable for an independent country."
Britain also retains military bases in Cyprus that are sovereign British territory but has offered to give up nearly half of its land as part of a final settlement.
UN peacekeepers also safeguard a buffer zone between the two sides.
Kotzias said the sides were expected to set up a "team of experts" charged with the security file, with the three foreign ministers meeting again on Jan 23 to discuss the issue.
Earlier in the week, Anastasiades and Akinci tackled thorny domestic questions like the composition of a unified government and land swaps.
In another first, they exchanged maps late Wednesday detailing their visions of how internal boundaries should be redrawn.
Turkish Cypriot leaders have agreed in principle to return some of the land they have controlled since the failed 1974 coup.
The Greek Cypriot government said that the maps met the terms agreed during previous negotiations that foresees the Turkish Cypriot zone amounting to a maximum of 29.2 per cent of the island, although disputes remain and a final version has not been agreed.
The sides have also discussed the island's relations with the European Union, with the UN seeking to create a unified nation that would be a full EU member.
While Cyprus has been an EU member state since 2004, Anastasiades's internationally recognised government exercises no control over the northern Turkish-ruled part of the island, and EU legislation is suspended there until a settlement is reached.