Now is the time for peace in Cyprus

A United Nations envoy has urged the rival sides on the divided island of Cyprus to seize an opportunity for peace, warning it could be years before such a chance arose again.

In recent months Greek and Turkish Cypriots have been negotiating to try to end their decades-long conflict and have asked the United Nations to prepare for a new peace conference in early March.

“We are in the end phase. Either we find a solution, or it will be a very long time before the next time we get another opportunity,” U.N. envoy Espen Barth Eide, who is overseeing the talks, told Reuters on Monday.

“It is absolutely possible that this could happen within a short time. It is dangerous to say a date, but (it is possible) this spring,” he said, on the sidelines of a defence conference in the Norwegian capital.

“It is possible to do it but it needs will on both sides in Cyprus and among the neighbouring countries.”

Cyprus has been split on ethnic lines since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the north of the island in response to a short-lived coup by Greek Cypriot militants seeking union with Greece.

Intercommunal violence had simmered since the 1960s, when a power-sharing system collapsed soon after independence from Britain.