October 26, 2018 / 10:51 AM / 10 months ago

Cypriot rivals agree new checkpoints, but stop short of peace talks

Elizabeth Spehar, U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of Mission (UNFICYP) attends a meeting with Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci in the buffer zone of Nicosia airport, Cyprus October 26, 2018. Iakovos Hatzistavrou/Pool via REUTERS

ATHENS (Reuters) - The rival leaders of ethnically divided Cyprus agreed on Friday to open more checkpoints along the militarized frontier that separates them, marking a rare sign of cooperation in the deadlocked conflict.

Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci were meeting for the first time in about six months, but they stopped short of announcing the resumption of peace talks that collapsed last year.

The leaders had a “frank exchange of views” on the way forward, they said in a joint statement after meeting at a United Nations compound on the island on early on Friday.

Anastasiades and Akinci agreed to open one new checkpoint in the west of the island and another in the east. The crossing points are due to be opened on Nov. 12 and will ease interaction between populations estranged for decades until the first checkpoints opened in 2003.

There are presently seven checkpoints dotted along the 180-km (112-mile) ceasefire line splitting Cyprus east to west, which is patrolled by U.N. peacekeepers.

The island was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup.

U.N.-led peace talks between the two sides collapsed in acrimony in Switzerland in July 2017, mainly due to disagreement over the role Turkey could play in a post-settlement Cyprus.

The perils of the stalled process have underscored simmering tension between Cyprus’s internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government and Turkey in overlapping claims of jurisdiction for offshore oil and gas research. The matter also strains ties between NATO allies Greece and Turkey.

Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Helen Popper

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