Antonio Guterres. Picture: EPA/SALVATORE DI NOLFI
Antonio Guterres. Picture: EPA/SALVATORE DI NOLFI

Geneva — UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres opened a conference on Thursday aimed at ending decades of division in Cyprus, billed as the "very last chance" to solve one of the world’s longest-running political crises.

Guterres is undertaking his first foreign trip as head of the UN in a bid to achieve a breakthrough at the Geneva summit, which brings together 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 multiparty talks follow three days of negotiation between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders aimed at forging a united, two-zone federation. The intra-Cypriot talks focused on thorny domestic issues such as territory and what a future, unified government might look like.

UN Cyprus envoy Espen Barth Eide has termed this week "the moment of truth" and insisted that a deal to solve the division was within reach.

In a crucial step, Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci exchanged maps 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 1974.

A Greek Cypriot government spokesman said the map was "within the framework" agreed during previous negotiations.

The framework foresees a Turkish Cypriot zone on a maximum of 29.2% of the island.

"We consider it as a particularly positive development," the spokesman said, while noting disputes remained and a final map had not been agreed on.

The 30,000 Turkish troops deployed on the island remain a deeply divisive issue, with Anastasiades wanting them to leave but Akinci determined to keep a military presence. Ankara has said little about the type of security deal it would endorse.

AFP

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