Rival Cyprus leaders in coffee shop 'message of hope'

Rival Cyprus leaders in coffee shop 'message of hope'

Nicosia (AFP) - The Greek and Turkish leaders of Cyprus drank coffee together Saturday on both sides of the armistice line dividing Nicosia, pledging their full commitment to UN-backed reunification talks.

The two leaders wandered down the main shopping street in the capital's Old City in an informal outing in which they spent exactly 45 minutes in cafes on either side of the UN-patrolled buffer zone in a display of even-handedness.

Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades, who is president of the island's internationally recognised government, said he wanted to show his seriousness about reaching an agreement to end the half-century-old division of the two communities.

"I want to send the strongest message that we shall work tirelessly in order to find a peaceful solution at the earliest possible," Anastasiades said.

"This is the strong message I would like to convey to both communities, that we are condemned by history and this is our duty -- peace for everyone on this island."

Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, a veteran champion of reconciliation whose election last month gave new impetus to reunification efforts, said that after so many years of false starts he was determined to avoid new disappointments.

"We very much would like to give the message of hope because after so many disappointments we need this hope," he said.

"But, of course, what we need more is not to create yet another disappointment."

A UN-brokered reunification blueprint, which was backed by both Anastasiades and Akinci, was approved by Turkish Cypriots but rejected by Greek Cypriots in simultaneous referendums in 2004.

As a result Cyprus joined the European Union that year still a divided island, and Turkish Cypriots in the breakaway north have been denied the full benefits of membership.

The two leaders launched a new round of reunification talks on Friday under the auspices of the United Nations which has had a peacekeeping force on the island since 1964, shortly after the outbreak of communal violence.

The island's division was consolidated 10 years later when Turkish troops occupied its northern third in response to a Greek Cypriot coup seeking union with Greece.

Turkish Cypriot leaders declared a breakaway state in 1983 but it is recognised only by Ankara.

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