The top UN envoy in divided Cyprus said Thursday that he is encouraged by the momentum of the revived peace process but called for patience for substantive reunification talks to begin.
"Recent developments give us many reasons for hope," Taye-BrookZerihoun, the UN Secretary-General's special representative in Cyprus, told a press conference in the UN-monitored buffer zone.
The leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities "have shown determination to move the peace process forward," and the UN mission in Cyprus will continue to "assist them as they advance in this worthy cause," he added.
Zerihoun, who is also the chief of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), was speaking on the occasion of the 60th International Day of UN Peacekeepers.
President and Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat agreed on March 21 to revive the peace process aimed at reunifying the eastern Mediterranean island.
Six working groups and seven technical committees have been conducting preparatory talks since mid-April, with the working groups discussing fundamental issues like power-sharing, security and property, and the technical committees tackling everyday concerns.
The Greek Cypriot side has recently voiced its disappointment over the lack of progress made by the working groups, especially on key issues such as territory, property and settlers from Turkey. This prevented the leaders from fixing a date to start substantive talks during a meeting last Friday.
"Let's keep the hope alive and I am certain that the process, the momentum will be kept," said Zerihoun, in response to a question about the possible delay in direct talks between the leaders.
The UN envoy said that finding a solution to the four-decade-old Cyprus problem would naturally take time.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey militarily intervened and occupied the north of the island following a coup by a group of Greek officers who pushed for a union with Greece. But UN peacekeepers were first sent to the island in 1964, a decade before the division, to prevent conflicts between the two rival communities.
Some 860 military personnel are currently deployed along the 180 km buffer zone to help maintain peace and stability. A total of 178 UN peacekeepers have lost their lives in Cyprus. However, the current situation is relatively stable.
While monitoring peace on the island, the UN has been trying to persuade the two communities to find a comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus issue.
The standoff between the two communities is also a major obstacle to Turkey's ambitions of European Union membership, as Ankara has refused to recognize EU member the Republic of Cyprus, which in fact only includes the southern Greek Cypriot two-thirds of the island.