Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders agreed Friday to restart peace talks on reunifying their ethnically split island, and to open a crossing in the heart of the divided capital.
Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat met for the first time since Christofias' election last month renewed hopes that the island's three-decade-long division could be resolved.
"This is a new era. We're starting for the solution of the Cyprus problem," Talat said after the meeting, held inside the U.N.-controlled buffer zone near the long-abandoned Nicosia airport. The U.N. special representative to Cyprus, Michael Moller, was also in the meeting.
Both sides agreed to open a crossing at Ledra Street, a busy pedestrian shopping street in the heart of Nicosia that runs across the capital's dividing line. Ledra has come to symbolize the island's division.
A crossing at the street will open "as soon as technically possible," Moller said.
The street is blocked by a wall of aluminum and plastic on either side, with a no-man's-land of abandoned buildings and rubble stretching between the two barriers. The barriers will have to be dismantled, and the dilapidated abandoned buildings blocked off before that stretch of the street can reopen to pedestrians.
Nicosia Mayor Eleni Mavrou said on CyBC state radio that work would start Monday on dismantling the barriers and that a crossing could open the following week.
Cyprus was split into an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north in 1974, when Turkey invaded in response to a short-lived coup by people who wanted to unite the island with Greece.
Peace talks have been stalled since 2004, when Greek Cypriot voters rejected a U.N. settlement plan in a referendum. Turkish Cypriots backed the plan.
"We shall try our utmost in order to come to an agreed solution for the interest of the Cypriot people, both communities, as soon as possible," Christofias said.
Christofias, who heads the communist-rooted AKEL party, had pledged to meet Talat within hours of winning presidential elections last month.
The two share left-wing roots and have friendly relations, but disagree on whether to base future negotiations on the last U.N. draft settlement.
"I hope that Mr. Talat and Christofias, as old friends, do not become enemies," Christofias said.