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U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday it was time for a Cyprus solution as he urged the leaders to find the courage needed to do so.

“For decades, the world has heard about the Cyprus problem. Now is the time for the Cyprus solution,” Ban said at a joint news conference with President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat yesterday afternoon.

“We will need even more courage and determination in the period ahead to bring these talks to a successful conclusion. No one is under the illusion that any of this is easy. Peace negotiations never are.”

Ban’s words of encouragement came as four Greek Cypriot political parties snubbed the international mediator’s reception last night because he had met Talat at the ‘presidential palace’ in the north yesterday morning.

The meeting was to have taken place at Talat’s residence but was changed at the last minute by the Turkish Cypriot side, which reportedly presented the UN delegation with a fait accompli.

Christofias expressed his “displeasure” to Ban over the visit to Talat’s office when he met separately with the Secretary General afterwards.

This left Ban’s Special Envoy Alexander Downer to defend the UN’s position, while the diplomatic community was said to have been disgusted over the snub by coalition partners DIKO and EDEK, plus the European Party and the Greens.

“Mr. Ban has committed a gaffe of monumental proportions. He is unacceptable, out of order and has lost all credibility to monitor the peace talks…” declared European Party MP Rikos Erotokritou.

Downer tried to play down the issue telling reporters:: “It's well known that the United Nations recognise the Republic of Cyprus, you are aware of that.”

“The Secretary General met with Mr Talat in his capacity as the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community in the context of the negotiations for a solution for the Cyprus problem. The venue of the meeting has no political significance,” he added.

But one disgusted diplomat didn’t mince his words: “The man is here to help find a solution, and this is how he is treated. These people want the kind of solution that is non-negotiable,” he said.

If Ban was frustrated by the reaction of the Greek Cypriot parties, he did not show it during the joint news conference with the leaders.

He said the world was seeing two leaders who were rising to the challenge. “I am encouraged that the two leaders personally assured me of their shared commitment to a comprehensive solution as early as possible.

He added that he was convinced the two leaders could achieve a mutually beneficial solution and stressed the importance of building on the momentum of what had been achieved so far.

However there were no announcements yesterday about any agreements, nor any news about whether or not intensive talks would continue between Christofias and Talat.

The two, in a joint statement read out by Ban, confined themselves to saying they had achieved “important progress” on the issues of governance and power-sharing.

“Over the last three weeks we have worked hard during our intensified negotiations, mainly on the Chapter of governance and power sharing and achieved important progress,” said the statement.

The leaders expressed their “strong commitment to continue to work on this (governance and power-sharing) and the rest of the chapters.”

“We express our confidence that with good will and determination, we can achieve a solution in the shortest possible time,” the statement said.

Christofias and Talat are expected to continue the negotiations in the run up to the elections in the north in April where the future of the negotiations are at stake if Talat is ousted in favour of hardliner Dervis Eroglu.

“I am ready to continue to negotiate with him (Talat) in spite of the elections,” Christofias said. “This is our common desire, this is our common decision … soon we are going to be able to announce when our next meeting will be.”

Talat said he was satisfied with the convergences in general and said he hoped the negotiations will continue in order to achieve more convergences.

Other than his meetings with the leaders Ban also went on a walkabout through the Ledra Street crossing yesterday and was mobbed by well wishers on the Turkish Cypriot side. He inaugurated construction work aimed at stabilising buildings in the vicinity of the crossing, inside the buffer zone.

“As a citizen of Korea, I am coming from a country where it is still divided between the south and north. I have seen for myself the very sad reality, the emptiness and destructions and such very painful feelings I share with the people of Cyprus,” Ban said.

February 02, 2010, By George Psyllides-CyprusMail
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