NICOSIA, Cyprus â€” Talks to reunify ethnically-split Cyprus suffered another blow after the leader of breakaway Turkish Cypriots backed out of a scheduled meeting aiming to push negotiations forward, officials said Wednesday.
Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades expressed regret that Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci told United Nations officials that he won’t attend Thursday’s meeting.
“I’m ready to continue negotiations at any time,” Anastasides posted on his official Twitter account.
Although both sides insist that talks haven’t collapsed, the latest setback further erodes confidence in the 22-month peace process to reunify the island as a federation.
Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. More than 35,000 troops are stationed in the island’s north where Turkish Cypriots have declared a breakaway state recognized only by Turkey.
Akinci pulled out amid Turkish Cypriot anger over recently-approved legislation that made the commemoration of a 1950 vote for Cyprus’ union with Greece mandatory in Greek Cypriot schools.
Akinci insists that Anastasiades must take steps to rescind the legislation before talks can proceed.
Turkish Cypriots see a drive by the majority Greek Cypriots for union with Greece as the root of all the island’s ills.
Anastasiades said it was a mistake to pass the legislation at a time when peace talks are at their most sensitive and because the drive for union with Greece is already celebrated as a public holiday on its April 1st anniversary.
But he lamented that the talks were being jeopardized by a “minor, insignificant issue.”
Greek Cypriot political parties said in a joint statement that the legislation in no way reflected a shift away from the stated goal of a federated Cyprus.
Cyprus government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said Akinci was using the legislation as an excuse to deflect attention away from the real reasons why talks aren’t moving forward. Christodoulides said Turkey is stalling because its demand to keep military intervention rights and troops on the island after reunification is falling on deaf ears.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Tuesday cited the legislation as justification to include troops and intervention rights in any peace deal.
Security is central to any peace deal. Although Turkish Cypriots see Turkey’s military might as their only security guarantee, Greek Cypriots consider it as a perpetual threat.
Christodoulides suggested that a follow-up summit scheduled to take place in Geneva in March is now in doubt because Turkey is having “second thoughts” about holding it.
Menelaos Hadjicostis, The Associated Press