UN chief in Switzerland for final Cyprus peace push

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UN chief in Switzerland for final Cyprus peace push
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Crans-Montana (Switzerland) (AFP) - United Nations chief Antonio Guterres arrived in Switzerland on Friday to give a boost to pivotal talks aimed at reuniting the Mediterranean island of Cyprus after more than four decades of bitter division.

Guterres joins the negotiations in the Swiss Alpine resort of Crans-Montana as rival Cypriot leaders are under intense international pressure to strike a deal.

A source close to the talks said Guterres would ask Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders to take "big and bold" decisions at the summit, which has been billed as the best chance for lasting peace on the island.

"We hope the secretary-general can play a catalytic role in encouraging the sides to finally resolve one of Europe's last frozen conflicts," the source told AFP.

Cyprus, an EU member, has been divided since 1974 after Turkish troops invaded the island following an Athens-inspired coup attempt seeking a union with Greece.

The northern third later declared itself a separate territory, a move that has been recognised only by Ankara.

Turkey maintains more than 35,000 troops there, and any prospects of reunifying Cyprus rest largely on a drastic reduction of Turkey's military presence.

A diplomatic source told AFP that Ankara was prepared to slash its troop numbers by as much as 80 percent, but Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu went on national television Thursday to deny a planned pullout.

- 'Best chance' for peace -

President Nicos Anastasiades, the Greek Cypriot leader who heads the island's internationally recognised government, and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akinci are representing their respective communities.

They are joined by delegations from Cyprus's so-called guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and Britain.

UN envoy Espen Barth Eide had met Friday morning with Anastasiades and Akinci to push them to reach a broad-brush agreement ahead of Guterres' arrival.

He has his work cut out for him: Successive UN-backed efforts to solve the 40-year-old standoff have failed to reunite the island.

But officials were optimistic that the Crans-Montana talks may be different.

"We know that the issues that the leaders and the guarantor powers are discussing are quite difficult and security is a concern to both communities on Cyprus," UN foreign affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman told AFP.

"There is a lot that was discussed at the political level that has not been discussed before at these talks."

The Turkish invasion of Cyprus was one of postwar Europe's bloodiest episodes and its effects are still felt today.

More than 2,000 people are thought to have died in the offensive and massacres carried out by Greek and Turkish Cypriot militias. At least 1,200 are still missing.

Eide has called the Crans-Montana talks the "best chance" for a settlement.

Any negotiated deal will need to be voted through in twin referendums, which is far from a given: In 2004, the last UN-brokered accord was accepted by Turkish-Cypriots but roundly rejected by the island's Greek speakers.

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