October 26, 2016 / 9:13 PM / 3 years ago

Cyprus peace talks move to Switzerland to pursue trade-offs, says U.N.

ATHENS (Reuters) - Leaders of ethnically-split Cyprus will move peace talks to Switzerland in November where territorial issues will be discussed, the United Nations said on Wednesday, in the latest attempt at ending one of Europe’s most enduring conflicts.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras speaks during a news conference with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Cyprus' President Nicos Anastasiades (unseen) about ways to combat illegal immigration to Europe at the El-Thadiya presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, October 11, 2016. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Negotiations will take place in Mont Pelerin, Switzerland from Nov. 7-11, the United Nations mission on the island said after talks between Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, the Greek Cypriot leader, and Mustafa Akinci, the leader of Turkish Cypriots.

“The leaders expressed their hope that their meeting in Switzerland will pave the way for the last phase of the talks in line with their shared commitment to do their utmost in order to reach a settlement within 2016,” a spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping force said in a statement.

If the two sides conclude on a peace blueprint, it has to go to public referendum. A previous plan drafted by the United Nations in 2004 was rejected by Greek Cypriots who viewed it as failing to offer safeguards against Turkey’s influence and presence on the island.

Peace talks on Cyprus have been held inconclusively for years, but diplomats say Anastasiades and Akinci, both perceived as moderates, represent the best chance in at least a generation of securing a deal where others have failed.

The east Mediterranean island was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 after a brief Greek inspired coup. Up to 30,000 Turkish troops remain in northern Cyprus, a breakaway state recognized only by Ankara.

Greek Cypriots run Cyprus’s internationally-recognized Nicosia-based government, which represents the island in the European Union, giving it leverage over Turkish aspirations of joining the bloc.

The two leaders have been negotiating for more than a year within the confines of a United Nations compound straddling a “buffer zone” on the island which splits the two sides. But crucial phases of discussions are normally held off-island in an attempt to avoid potentially damaging leaks imperiling negotiation tactics.

Territorial adjustments are an integral part of any deal to unite Cyprus as a federation with two semi-autonomous zones - one Greek Cypriot and one Turkish Cypriot.

Turkish Cypriots now control some 37 percent of Cypriot territory. Previous reunification proposals have given the numerically larger Greek Cypriots a bigger proportion of territory than they now occupy.

Earlier on Wednesday, Cyprus’s cabinet suggested a two-and-a-half-year postponement of local elections scheduled for December in what was officially put down to plans by authorities to pursue changes to the function of local government.

The proposal will require ratification by the Cyprus parliament.

Reporting by Michele Kambas, editing by G Crosse

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