UN envoy says no backpedalling on Cyprus peace talks after new Turkish Cypriot leader elected

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Talks to reunify divided Cyprus will not start from scratch after a hard-liner won a Turkish Cypriot leadership election last month, a U.N. envoy said Monday.

Dervis Eroglu, who was elected president of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north, met with U.N. envoy Alexander Downer for the first time since the April 18 vote.

Downer said Eroglu agreed to build on progress his leftist predecessor Mehmet Ali Talat made after 19 months of negotiations with Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias.

Eroglu's election has raised fears that his long-standing support for separate sovereignty — instead of a partnership in a federation envisioned by Talat and Christofias — would derail negotiations.

Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkish Cypriots declared an independent republic in 1983, but only Turkey recognizes it and maintains 35,000 troops there.

The island's internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government has said Eroglu's election could create "very serious problems" to the talks. Christofias said any deviation from a federal basis to an accord would be a deal-breaker.

Downer said he told Eroglu that the talks should resume from where they left off — after a nearly two-month break for the election — and remain in line with what was previously agreed.

"Mr. Eroglu has made it clear that he is happy for the talks to proceed on those bases, so we're pleased to hear that," Downer said after meeting Eroglu in the Turkish Cypriot northern half of the divided capital. "We think that's very constructive."

The U.N. envoy said he hopes the open-ended talks can resume before June and that a specific date will be set after he meets with Christofias on Tuesday.

"I do think that we need to get the momentum back into these negotiations," Downer said.