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Juncker urges Cypriot leaders to seize chance for peace

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The rival leaders of ethnically divided Cyprus must not let the chance to reunify the island slip away as renewed peace talks kick into gear, the European Commission’s top official said Thursday.

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said encouraging signs of progress in negotiations shouldn’t go to waste.

“This is a unique chance, a unique opportunity and we should not lose the momentum,” Juncker said after talks with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades in the Cypriot capital.

Juncker praised Anastasiades for his determined stance in the United Nations-mediated talks with the leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots, Mustafa Akinci.

Talks resumed in May after an eight-month pause triggered by a feud between the Cypriot government and Turkey over the island’s right to explore for gas and oil deposits off its shores.

Cyprus was split into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized south in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece.

Turkey insisted that a unilateral Greek Cypriot search for gas infringed on Turkish Cypriot rights to the island’s potential mineral wealth.

Juncker said a Cyprus peace accord would be “good news for the entire European Union” and that he would take a personal interest in negotiations.

U.N. envoy Espen Barth Eide has said that dynamic energy and positive climate” in the talks are starting “to pay real dividends.” That’s partly due to the rise of moderate leftist Akinci to power last April.

But talks are still at an early state and much remains to be discussed including thorny issues that have stumped previous rounds of negotiations like military intervention rights accorded to Turkey.

Both leaders agree that any peace accord should be anchored on EU principles and law. Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, but only the south enjoys full membership benefits.

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