A UN envoy says her experience in Colombia deal may help her efforts in restarting Cyprus talks

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — A United Nations official said on Tuesday that her experience in negotiating an end to decades of conflict in her native Colombia may help her as she seeks to rekindle talks over Cyprus’ ethnic division.

María Ángela Holguín Cuellar, the U.N. chief’s new personal envoy for Cyprus, said she believes she can work with both Greek Cypriots in the island’s internationally recognized south and Turkish Cypriots in the breakaway north to get them back to the negotiating table after years of complete stalemate.

“I was part of that team that we finally reached a peace agreement” in Colombia, Holguín told reporters after her first meeting with the Greek Cypriot President of Cyprus, Nikos Christodoulides. “And I think I can collaborate and do all my best for … a good result for Cyprus.”

Holguín served as Colombia’s top diplomat during 2010-2018 and as its representative to the U.N. during 2004-2006. It’s her first trip to the east Mediterranean island nation after her appointment earlier this month.

She is also meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar later on Tuesday. Separately, she will contact women’s organizations and other civil society groups over the next few days for a first-hand assessment to gauge the conditions for a resumption of full-fledged peace talks.

Cyprus was divided along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup mounted by Greek junta-backed supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a 1983 Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and maintains more than 35,000 troops in the island’s northern third.

A Cyprus peace deal would reduce a source of potential conflict next door to an unstable Middle East and allow for the easier harnessing of hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean Sea’s natural gas-rich waters.

But Holguín faces a tough task. The two sides have grown further apart in the years since the last major push to reach a peace settlement in the summer of 2017. The fact that U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has dispatched an envoy to tell him if it’s worth another U.N.–facilitated round of negotiations indicates the degree of caution with which the world body is approaching the conflict after half a century of failure.

Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots say the only way to peace is a two-state deal, ditching an agreement to reunify the island as a federation composed of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot zones. Speaking after his meeting with Holguín Tuesday, Tatar repeated he won’t engage in formal negotiations unless Turkish Cypriot sovereignty is recognized as equal to that of the Cyprus Republic.

The majority Greek Cypriots reject anything that would formalize a partition, as well as demands for a Turkish Cypriot veto on all federal-level government decisions, a permanent Turkish troop presence and Turkish military intervention rights.

Cyprus government spokesman Constantinos Letymbiotis dismissed Tatar’s remark that Holguín’s time to reach any assessment is limited to a few months.

“There’s no timetable, there no time limit,” he said. “Certainly, we believe that if there’s the same political will from the other side, the resumption of talks can happen very quickly.”

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