NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The leaders of Cyprus' rival Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities on Thursday agreed to open two more crossing points across the island's north-south divide as reunification negotiations ramped up.
United Nations envoy Espen Barth Eide made the announcement after Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots Mustafa Akinci met for the second time after peace talks resumed this month following an eight-month pause.
Eide said the leaders agreed to look at opening more crossing points, as well as to implement other trust-building steps including interconnecting separate electricity grids and mobile telephone networks.
Cyprus was divided along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup aiming to unite the tiny east Mediterranean island with Greece. Turkish Cypriots declared an independent state in the island's northern third, but it's recognized only by Turkey which keeps more than 35,000 troops there. Although Cyprus is a European Union member, only the internationally recognized south enjoys full benefits.
There are currently seven crossing points across the 180-kilometer (120-mile) U.N.-controlled buffer zone. The first opened 11 years ago after nearly three decades of the two sides' almost complete isolation from one another. The leaders didn't specify when the two new crossing points, in the island's northwest and southeast, would open.
The trust-building steps aim to inject more momentum into the talks and win over sceptics by underscoring the leaders' commitment to solving the decades-old problem.
Anastasiades said the leaders are focused on delivering a swift peace accord that lives up to the expectations of Greek and Turkish Cypriots and "ensures that this state will fully comply with the European norms of other (EU) member states."
The leaders for the first time made a joint appeal for any information assisting a UN-facilitated search for some 2,000 Greek and Turkish Cypriots who disappeared during inter-communal violence in the 1960s and the 1974 invasion. The appeal came with a promise that any information will be kept strictly confidential.
The leaders also agreed to put together a committee on gender equality aiming to gather "the perspectives of both women and men" on a peace deal.