Cyprus religious leaders come together to support peace

Nicosia (AFP) - Cyprus political and religious leaders on Thursday for the first time expressed joint support for the UN-brokered peace process to reunite their divided island.

"The willingness of both political leaders to meet with the religious leaders... in the UN-controlled buffer zone today gives great hope," said Peter Weiderud, the Swedish moderator of the religious track of the peace process.

Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akinci attended the Nicosia meeting with the leaders of the island's Armenian, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Maronite and Muslim communities.

"The religious leaders of Cyprus have learned that it is very difficult to reach results... if they only address their own needs," Weiderud said.

But if they address the main concerns in line with human rights and international law, they can count on international support, he said.

Religious exchanges on the island are infrequent and special permission is needed for the faithful to attend pilgrimages or ceremonies in either the predominantly Muslim Turkish Cypriot north or Christian Orthodox Greek Cypriot south.

Long-stalled UN-brokered peace -- in what is seen as the last best chance to reunify Cyprus after four decades of division ?- were launched on May 15.

Many believe the good chemistry between Anastasiades and Akinci can create a climate of trust in order for an elusive peace accord to be reached.

Key issues that have wrecked previous peace bids are deep-rooted disagreements on territorial adjustments, security, property rights and power sharing in a federal, reunited Cyprus.

The two leaders are scheduled to resume talks on September 14.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.

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