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Hammond holds out hope for Cyprus reconciliation

Britain stands ready to do whatever it can to ensure Cyprus grasps a "real opportunity" to end four decades of division, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said as he began a day of talks on the island.

Hopes of a reconciliation deal are at their highest for more than a decade after the election of a moderate leader in the Turkish Cypriot north opened the door to intensive United Nations-led negotiations with the Greek Cypriot president.

Mr Hammond hailed the "courageous leadership" of Mustafa Akinci and President Nicos Anastasiades as he joined a procession of senior international politicians visiting in a bid to provide impetus to the process.

He is meeting both leaders - and touring the United Nations-policed "green line" buffer zone across the island between the sessions each side of it - before discussing the latest developments with the UN special adviser Espen Barth Eide.

The demilitarised area has separated the Turkish Cypriot republic in the north - which is not internationally recognised - since Turkey invaded in 1974 in response to a coup by nationalists who it was feared would annex the island to Greece.

But with both Athens and Ankara apparently now both keen to see a resolution and a referendum possible as early as the spring, there is cautious optimism that solutions may be found to key issues such as the details of power-sharing and compensation for those who lost their homes when they fled south or north 41 years ago.

"There is a real opportunity to secure a just and lasting settlement in Cyprus," Mr Hammond said.

"The island has been divided for too long. Under the courageous leadership of President Anastasiades and Mr Akinci, I believe there is a chance to finally resolve the situation."

He has spoken previously of a decisive breakthrough being "tantalisingly close".

"As a guarantor power the UK is a strong supporter of the efforts to reunite Cyprus and we will do whatever we can to help," he said.

The UK expects to give up large parts of its sovereign base territories in the event of a deal - but would continue to base troops at the key strategic location.

The opening of new crossing points, a joint electricity grid and a co-ordinated push to have local cheese halloumi recognised as a protected product by Brussels have been hailed as symbolic of a potential new agreement.

The last time an agreement was put the the people in 2004, the UN-brokered blueprint was comprehensively rejected.

Mr Hammond is also visiting the base of the Committee on Missing Persons whose mission is to return to their families the remains of some 1,508 Greek Cypriots and 493 Turkish Cypriots not seen since the troubles of the 1960s and 1970s. Many hundreds have already been exhumed.

After his talks with Mr Anastasiades at the presidential palace, Mr Hammond said the international community "ardently desires" a solution.

"There are, of course, big challenges that need to be addressed. We will give every support we can," he told reporters.


From Belfast Telegraph