NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Talks to reunify ethnically split Cyprus suffered another blow after the leader of the island's breakaway Turkish Cypriots backed out of a scheduled meeting, officials said Wednesday.
Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades expressed regret that Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci told United Nations officials that he won't be attending Thursday's meeting.
"I'm ready to continue negotiations at any time," Anastasiades posted on his official Twitter account.
Although both sides insist the reunification talks haven't collapsed, the latest setback further erodes confidence in the 22-month peace process.
Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. More than 35,000 Turkish troops remain stationed in the island's north, where Turkish Cypriots have declared a breakaway state.
Akinci pulled out amid Turkish Cypriot anger over recently approved legislation that made the commemoration of a 1950 vote backing Cyprus' union with Greece mandatory in Greek Cypriot schools.
Akinci insists that Anastasiades must take steps to rescind the legislation before their talks can proceed. Turkish Cypriots see the drive to unite with Greece, which went on for decades, 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. He noted that Cyrus already celebrates the armed guerrilla campaign by Greek Cypriots to gain independence from Britain as a public holiday on April 1.
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 alleged that Turkey has stalled the process because its demand to keep military intervention rights and troops on the island post-reunification has failed to win support.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias backed the assertion, telling Greek Skai TV that Turkey is trying to hinder Cyprus peace talks because its "weakest" arguments for troops and intervention rights haven't gained traction.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Tuesday cited the legislation as justification to include troops and intervention rights as a condition for peace.
Security is central to any 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.