Divided Cyprus' rival Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders hosted a dinner for U.N. officials in this ethnically mixed village Thursday as they faced growing pressure to make progress in reunification talks.
The gathering in Pyla came ahead of a crucial session with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in New York later this month.
Accompanied by their wives, Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias and breakaway Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu braved midwinter drizzle to greet villagers and exchange New Year's wishes in the village square before sitting down for a meal at a Greek Cypriot fish tavern, followed by coffee at a Turkish Cypriot cafe.
The event was effectively a photo-op designed to underscore the leaders' commitment to a peace deal, even though there has been scant progress in recent months.
Straddling the U.N. controlled buffer zone in the island's southeast, Pyla remains the only village where Greek and Turkish Cypriots have continued to live together since 1974, when the island was split after Turkey invaded in response to a coup by supporters of union with Greece.
The island became a European Union member in 2004, but only the southern, internationally recognized half enjoys benefits. A breakaway state Turkish Cypriots declared in 1983 is recognized only by Turkey, which keeps 35,000 troops there.
But the leaders' handshakes, smiles and jovial banter with villagers did little to detract from a growing sense that after more than three years of the frustratingly complex, U.N.-facilitated talks, time is running out for the sputtering process.
U.N. envoy Alexander Downer upped the ante Wednesday when he said that the leaders have until their Jan. 22-24 meeting with the U.N. chief to agree on several 'core' issues. Those issues include how to share power under an envisioned federation and what do to with property abandoned during the Turkish invasion.
With no plans for another meeting with Ban, Downer said no agreement on all the core issues by Jan. 22 would mean a talks deadlock, prompting a U.N. rethink of the process.