WORLD

UN chief in Switzerland for stalled Cyprus talks

UN CHIEF IN SWITZERLAND FOR STALLED CYPRUS TALKS

UN chief Antonio Guterres arrived in Switzerland Thursday in an apparent bid to unblock stalled talks on ending the decades-old conflict on Cyprus.

The secretary general arrived in Crans-Montana shortly after 9:00 am (0700 GMT) to rejoin the talks, which have been going on in the Swiss Alpine resort for more than a week, the UN said.

President Nicos Anastasiades, the Greek-Cypriot leader, and his Turkish-Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akinci had asked Guterres to return to the table, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Wednesday.

The UN-backed talks have been billed as the best chance to end one of the world's longest-running political crises.

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

Guterres spent a day at the talks last Friday, hailing them as "a historic opportunity to reach a comprehensive settlement."

But the negotiations have run into hurdles over security guarantees and the withdrawal of Turkish troops.

There had also been talk of the prime ministers from Cyprus's so-called guarantor powers, Greece, Turkey and Britain, joining the negotiations Thursday, in what would have been seen as a sign of progress.

- NOT ENOUGH PROGRESS -
But Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias acknowledged to reporters in Crans-Montana Wednesday that "we have not made enough progress."

"A lot of time has been wasted and that is why the prime ministers are not coming," he was quoted by Greek media as saying.

Kotzias, who earlier in the week demonstrated the souring tone at the talks when he called for the withdrawal of Turkey's "occupying troops", said he hoped the negotiations would with Guterres's help move forward on such "substantive" issues.

Turkey maintains more than 35,000 troops there, and any prospects of reunification largely hinge on a drastic reduction of Ankara's military presence.

Several previous peace drives have stumbled over the issue, with Greek Cypriots demanding a total withdrawal of what they say is an occupying force and minority Turkish-speakers fearful of ethnic violence in the event of a pullout.

A diplomatic source told AFP before the talks began that Ankara was prepared to slash its troop numbers by as much as 80 percent, but Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu flatly denied that any such withdrawal was planned.

Cyprus's 1960 constitution provided for 950 Greek and 650 Turkish troops remaining on the island.

But a Greek diplomatic source told AFP Athens wanted "the departure of all the troops".

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras meanwhile spoke on the phone with his Turkish counterpart Binali Yildirim Wednesday about the Cyprus talks.

According to a statement from the Greek government, they agreed that "despite the absence of progress in the ongoing negotiations, progress should be encouraged, especially on Thursday when the negotiations will take place in the presence of the UN Secretary-General."

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