Warning that talks to reunite Cyprus could founder fatally " if substantive agreement is not reached within the next few months, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling on the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders to ready a practical plan by January to overcome major differences.
I fear a critical window of opportunity is rapidly closing, " he says in his latest report to the Security Council on the United Nations-sponsored talks that seek to set up a Federal Government with a single international personality in a bi-zonal, bi-communal country with a Turkish Cypriot Constituent State and a Greek Cypriot Constituent State of equal status.
He cites fundamental differences on the issue of property on the Mediterranean island, where a UN peacekeeping mission has been in place since inter-communal violence erupted in 1964, and notes that parliamentary elections scheduled for May in the south as well as elections in Turkey in June militate against constructive negotiations in the second quarter of 2011.
The leaders have met 88 times since the start of negotiations in 2008, advancing in some areas, but there has been a worrying lack of progress " in six months of talks on currently irreconcilable difference over property rights, says Mr. Ban, who met with the two leaders in New York on 18 November.
The Greek Cypriots say those with property in the north should be able to seek reinstatement, while Turkish Cypriots say that if all Greek Cypriot property owners there were allowed reinstatement, it would be impossible for the Turkish Cypriots to secure bizonality. They want a ceiling on the number of those who can have properties reinstated, instead of compensation.
We must be clear that, in order to negotiate successfully a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, the two leaders will have to reconcile these and other seemingly irreconcilable issues, " Mr. Ban writes, calling on Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu to dedicate significant efforts " to preparing a practical plan for overcoming major remaining points of disagreement when he meets with them again in January.
In any society, intense political moments such as elections are rarely a time for compromises or flexibility, " he writes of the forthcoming electoral calendar. If substantive agreement across all chapters cannot be concluded ahead of the election cycle, the talks may go into abeyance, and there is a serious risk that the negotiations could founder fatally. "
Mr. Ban also warns of the need to avoid any inflammatory statements that could further stoke public scepticism over the talks, noting that despite the collegial atmosphere in which the leaders engage in the talks, their subsequent public rhetoric has not conveyed that the negotiations are moving forward and political leaders, both in government and the opposition, have accused the other side of undermining the talks.
Occasional outbursts by the leaders about each other have not contributed to building public confidence in the leadership and the peace process, " he says, calling on both sides to reverse the cycle of negative messaging since the success of the process will ultimately remain in the hands of the people, who will vote for an agreement in separate, simultaneous referendums.
I would encourage the leaders to step forward individually and jointly to deliver more constructive and harmonized messages. This is their responsibility just as much as managing the talks is. This would enhance public trust and support for the peace process and make the task of the leaders easier by making information available in a constructive manner to both sides, " he adds.
Now, more than ever, as public support is flagging, civil society can play an important role in supporting the leaders and the process. "
In a separate report on the 46-yearold UN mission, known as UNFICYP, Mr. Ban calls on the Council to renew its mandate for another six months until 15 June, citing its work with his Special Advisor on the talks, Alexander Downer, and other UN agencies actively engaged in promoting an atmosphere conducive to the negotiations. "
The overall number of violations in the buffer zone has declined, but low-level exercises near the ceasefire lines unnecessarily cause tensions and should be avoided, " he says.
UNFICYP, with a strength of over 900 uniformed personnel, continues to work closely with the two communities in resolving practical day-to-day issues, including the civilian use of the buffer zone. Such efforts are important in building confidence and positive relations between the communities, and I call on both sides to continue to support UNFICYP in that regard, " he adds.