Nicosia (AFP) - Rival Cypriot leaders on Friday resumed UN-brokered peace talks stalled since October, in what is seen as the best chance in years to reunify the island four decades after its division.
There is optimism that the two leaders both have the pro-settlement credentials to enter an intensified process that produces results.
Friday's first round of talks between President Nicos Anastasiades, the Greek Cypriot leader, and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart, the newly elected Mustafa Akinci, was officiated by UN special envoy Espen Barth Eide.
"I have high hopes for our prospects and the future," Anastasiades told reporters before the meeting.
The two leaders agreed to twice-monthly talks in order to "cultivate a climate of optimism", Eide said afterwards.
The next round of negotiations was set for May 28.
The aim of the initial session, held at a UN compound at the now defunct Nicosia airport in the buffer zone that splits the island, was to agree on the structure and frequency of meetings.
The UN-monitored ceasefire line has divided Cyprus since 1974 when Turkish troops occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon, in a statement released in New York, welcomed the resumption of full-fledged negotiations.
"With the momentum continuing to build for a solution to the long-standing division of the island, the secretary general salutes the commitment of the leaders to move forward without delay," read the statement.
"The secretary general calls on the leaders to seize this opportunity to achieve tangible progress towards a comprehensive settlement that would clearly benefit both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots," it added.
The talks were suspended in October last year, when Greek Cypriots pulled out in protest at Turkish exploration for oil and gas off the island's coast.
- Hope for unification -
Akinci, a longtime champion of reunification, was elected president of the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus on April 26, defeating nationalist incumbent Dervis Eroglu.
His election has renewed hopes for a settlement, according to Anastasiades.
The conservative Greek Cypriot leader also has peace credentials, having supported a 2004 UN settlement blueprint that 75 percent of Greek Cypriots rejected in a referendum.
There has since been little progress achieved, with the thorny issues of territorial adjustments, security, property rights and power-sharing the main stumbling blocks.
Any UN-brokered accord will again have to be put to the Cypriot people for a vote.
The Turkish Cypriots, who had already pulled out of government institutions in the face of communal violence in 1963, declared their breakaway state in 1983.
But it is recognised only by Turkey, which provides around a third of its budget.
During Friday's meeting, Anastasiades reportedly presented Akinci with maps of more than two dozen minefields planted in the mountains north of Nicosia before the Turkish invasion.
Both Ankara and Athens have voiced hope this week that 2015 could finally be the year that Cyprus is reunited, while Washington has welcomed the fresh talks and renewed its "willingness to assist the process in any way the parties find useful".