UN says stalled Cyprus peace talks to resume

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Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci (right) holds a press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu after a meeting in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) on February 21, 2017

Rival Cypriot leaders have agreed to restart stalled peace talks next week on reunifying the island, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

The announcement came after Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci met UN chief Antonio Guterres in Brussels.

"Special Adviser of the Secretary-General (SASG) on Cyprus, Mr Espen Barth Eide, has announced the Cyprus Talks will resume following consultations with both sides and today's meeting between the Secretary-General and the Turkish Cypriot leader," a UN statement said.

"The leaders will resume negotiations at 10am on Tuesday 11 April 2017. The meeting will be held under the auspices of SASG Eide," it added.

The announcement comes after Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Akinci met for dinner on Sunday for the first time since talks were suspended in February.

The four-hour dinner was held at the Ledra Palace Hotel in the buffer zone in the divided capital, Nicosia.

Outside the venue, scores of Greek and Turkish Cypriots chanted for a "solution now".

Earlier on Tuesday before the UN announcement, Anastasiades told reporters the Greek Cypriots were ready to resume talks at any time.

"Our position remains that we are ready at any given moment to continue the dialogue... The whole effort is focused on our desire for a solution to the Cyprus problem," Anastasiades said.

Anastasiades and Akinci have been engaged in fragile peace talks since May 2015 that observers saw as the best chance in years to reunify the island.

- Climate of trust crumbled -

But the UN-backed process came to a standstill in February in a row over Greek Cypriot schools marking the anniversary of an unofficial 1950 referendum supporting union with Greece.

Akinci suspended his participation in the talks after the Cyprus parliament approved a move for Greek Cypriot schools to commemorate the poll.

Since the bill passed, a previous climate of trust between the two sides has crumbled, with each blaming the other for the impasse.

Parliamentarians are now expected to amend the bill, allowing the education minister, rather than parliament itself, to decide on such issues.

Much of the progress in recent talks was based on the strong personal rapport between Anastasiades and Akinci, leader of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Obstacles to progress will remain even when the negotiations resume, as the leaders are still far apart on core issues such as power sharing, territorial adjustments and property rights.

Also added into the mix is a Greek Cypriot presidential election next February and the republic's search for oil and gas.

New exploratory drills are expected in June, but Ankara wants to see these stopped until peace talks have reached an outcome.

The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking Enosis -- the Greek term for political union between Greece and Cyprus.

After a failed referendum on a UN peace plan in 2004, the Cyprus republic now headed by Anastasiades joined the European Union as a divided country.

The self-declared republic in the Turkish-held north is recognised only by Turkey.