- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2002

NICOSIA, Cyprus (Agence France-Presse) Opposing leaders on Cyprus have agreed to resolve the outstanding issue of more than 2,000 Cypriots who went missing during the island's conflict-ridden history, government spokesman Michalis Papapetrou said yesterday.

The breakthrough is a direct result of Saturday's latest round of "dinner diplomacy" aimed at ending decades of division on Cyprus, when Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash visited the south of the divided island for the first time in 27 years to dine at the private residence of Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides.

The dinner Saturday reciprocated a similar historic event, when Mr. Clerides crossed over into the Turkish-held north to dine with Mr. Denktash on Dec. 5.

"Messieurs Clerides and Denktash look positively on the need to address the issue of missing persons and agreed to work towards solving this humanitarian issue," said the brief written statement by Mr. Papapetrou.

The two veteran sparring partners discussed the highly-charged issue during the historic meal.

At the top of the agenda is the exchange of information on the location of mass graves on either side of the dividing line.

An agreement on the issue was brokered by the United Nations in 1997, but it was followed by mass exhumations on only the Greek Cypriot side.

About 1,400 Greek Cypriots disappeared when Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, and about 800 Turkish Cypriots are listed missing from the intercommunal troubles going back to the early 1960s.

The two men had agreed Dec. 4 to begin face-to-face talks for the first time in four years to resolve the decades-old dispute.

The dinner diplomacy was planned to cultivate a more conducive climate for intensive direct talks due to begin Jan. 16 in Nicosia under the U.N. umbrella.

If things go according to plan, Mr. Denktash, 77, president of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the 82-year-old Mr. Clerides are prepared to meet three times a week until a settlement is reached.

They agreed that there should be signs of a breakthrough by June.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey seized its northern third in response to an Athens-engineered military coup seeking to unite Cyprus with Greece.

In yesterday evening's new year message, Mr. Clerides made a heartfelt personal appeal to "our Turkish Cypriot compatriots," wishing them many years of "progress and happiness."

"I assure them that we are equally interested in their peaceful and creative future, in their security, progress and well-being in a unified Cyprus and member of the European Union," said Mr. Clerides.

Frontrunner Cyprus expects to join an enlarged EU by January 2004.

"Above all, I wish that the new year will be the year of a peaceful solution of the Cyprus problem for Cypriots, Maronites, Armenians and Latins," Mr. Clerides said in his greetings.

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