NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus’ rival leaders agreed Thursday to meet June 8 to map out the next phase of stepped-up negotiations aimed at reunifying the ethnically divided island by year’s end.
The announcement by the island’s Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and the leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots Mustafa Akinci formally ends a diplomatic spat that put negotiations on ice last week.
Anastasiades called off a scheduled meeting with Akinci a week ago when Akinci the Turkish Cypriot leader appeared at a heads of state dinner during a May 23 United Nations-sponsored summit in Istanbul.
Anastasiades blamed the U.N. over what he saw as an attempt to diplomatically upgrade the Turkish Cypriots. However he said U.N. Chief Ban Ki-moon’s assurances that the U.N. only recognizes the government of the Republic of Cyprus were enough for him to re-engage.
Akinci called Anastasiades’ response an “unnecessary overreaction,” adding that he would continue to meet with world leaders in hopes of nudging peace talks.
Both leaders say the yearlong talks have made much progress in reunifying the island as a federation, but difficulties remain.
Cyprus has been split into an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north since 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a 1974 coup aimed at union with Greece split Cyprus. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and maintains more than 35,000 troops in the north.
The two leaders made the announcement after attending an event involving 100 school children from either side of the divide inside the U.N.-controlled buffer zone that runs through the divided capital Nicosia.
The fifth-grade students held drawing, music and theater workshops. Although the kids didn’t know each other’s language, they said they communicated through some English phrases and hand gestures.
Rena Choplarou, a member of the joint Greek and Turkish Cypriot committee on education, said the aim is to eventually hold similar events at schools on either side.
“All our efforts are focused on leaving you a country in peace and love, we don’t want you to live through the difficult times that we’ve been through,” Akinci said.