Turk Cypriots seek greater UN role to start talks

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UNITED NATIONS, Oct 17 (Reuters) Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat urged UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to take a more active role in trying to restart stalled talks to reunite the divided island of Cyprus.

''Time is running out and the division is becoming more and more permanent,'' Talat told reporters after meeting Ban at UN headquarters in New York.

Cyprus has been split since Turkey invaded the north of the island in 1974 after a Greek Cypriot coup backed by the military junta then ruling Greece.

After a major diplomatic push by Ban's predecessor Kofi Annan, Greek Cypriot voters rejected a UN power-sharing blueprint in 2004 which the Turkish Cypriots accepted.

Days later, Greek Cypriots entered the European Union as the Republic of Cyprus, leaving the Turkish Cypriots out in the cold.

Talat said he had asked Ban for his ''active involvement'' in ending the international isolation of the Turkish Cypriots and launching negotiations. He also proposed a package of confidence-building measures, including steps he said would affect the military and crossing points between the two sides.

''We asked the secretary general's involvement, to be taking an initiative for starting fully fledged negotiations,'' Talat said.

But Ban made clear it was up to leaders in Cyprus to seize a ''window of opportunity'' for progress.

''Negotiation has been deadlocked and I'm very seriously considering what kind of initiative I should take,'' Ban said.

''But my lesson recently I have learned is that unless there are firm commitments from both sides, it's very difficult for me at this time to take certain initiatives.'' Cyprus is represented in the European Union by its internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government. Turkey, which seeks EU membership, supports a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in north Cyprus and keeps some 35,000 troops there.

A July 2006 deal outlining a two-track process of discussions on confidence building, and tackling harder subjects related to the conflict itself, was never carried through because of disputes over the agenda.

Talat met Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos last month but they failed to make progress on relaunching talks.

Ban said he was disappointed by the lack of progress in those talks and had urged Talat to help build confidence by steps such as greater cooperation on easing border controls.

Papadopoulos, who led opposition to the Annan plan in 2004, is seeking re-election in February. Talat said the Cyprus problem was being used as ''a toy'' in that election.

Turkey began EU entry talks in October 2005 but negotiations have been frozen in eight areas because of Ankara's refusal to open its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot traffic.

REUTERS CS BST0440

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