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Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders fail to start negotiations to reunify Cyprus

Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders failed to start negotiations to reunify Cyprus and were urged to immediately start preparing for talks.

In a resolution extending the mandate of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Cyprus until June 15, 2008, the council said that "the status quo is unacceptable, that time is not on the side of a settlement, and that negotiations to reunify the island have been at an impasse for too long."

Cyprus has been divided between a Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish-occupied north since 1974, when Turkey invaded after an abortive Athens-backed coup by supporters of union with Greece. In a 2004 referendum, a U.N. reunification plan was rejected by Greek Cypriot voters and accepted by Turkish Cypriots.

The council expressed "full support" for a July 8, 2006 agreement by the two sides to start immediately on two-tier negotiations - one tackling everyday issues to build confidence, and the other dealing with more serious political disputes including territorial and power-sharing arrangements in a federal state.

But it noted, "with deep concern, the lack of any progress."

The resolution adopted unanimously by the council urges the two sides "to engage constructively," stop mutual recriminations, and "show flexibility and political will over the coming months to make measurable progress which will allow fully fledged negotiations to begin."

"Deploring the continued failure to date to implement the July 8, 2006 agreement," the council urged Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders "to act to start the process without delay."

In a report to the council earlier this month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said there had been no progress in the last six months on implementing the agreement. Both sides continue to publicly support its principles that a comprehensive settlement must be based on a federal state with two zones and political equality.

In the absence of a settlement, Ban said the U.N. peacekeeping force, comprising 856 military personnel and 66 international police, "continues to play an important role." He recommended a six-month extension of its mandate, which the council unanimously approved.

Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat has said there will be no progress toward reuniting the divided Mediterranean island unless the isolation of northern Cyprus ends, and he warned in October that time is running out.

Ban said in his report "it is regrettable that the ongoing debate on the lifting of the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots has become a debate on recognition."

"Recognition, or assisting secession, would be contrary to the resolutions of the Security Council," he said. "Rather, the objective should be to engender greater economic and social parity between the sides by further promoting the development of the Turkish Cypriot community, so that the reunification of the island may occur in as seamless a manner as possible."

In a letter to Ban dated Dec. 13, however, Cyprus' U.N. Ambassador Andreas Mavroyiannis expressed "regret that the issue of the so-called isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community has been included yet again, in a report of the secretary-general."

The Cypriot government "cannot concur" that contacts with the Turkish Cypriot community in non-political fields should be promoted, he said.

Mavroyiannis also expressed concern at the continuing presence of 42,000 Turkish troops in northern Cyprus and expressed regret that Ban's report made no mention of its withdrawal, the return of refugees, halting the illegal exploitation of property and respecting cultural heritage which could contribute to finding a settlement.

Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos outlined proposals for restarting the stalled peace talks to Ban in October. Talat also made proposals to Ban.

Mavroyiannis said Papadopoulos' "comprehensive, flexible and forward-looking proposals" demonstrate that Cyprus "is ready to engage, without any delay, in a process leading to meaningful negotiations for a settlement to the Cyprus problem."

Ban said the main differences between the parties "have centered on questions concerning preparations for negotiations and the need for a time frame."

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