UN says Cyprus' rival leaders confident remaining peace talks issues can be resolved soon

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Talks aimed at reunifying ethnically divided Cyprus have made further progress and the island's rival leaders are confident remaining issues can be resolved soon, a U.N. envoy said Wednesday.

Envoy Espen Barthe Eide said Nicos Anastasiades, the Greek Cypriot president of the island's internationally recognized government, and the leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots, Mustafa Akinci, remain committed to reaching a peace accord "as soon as possible."

"The leaders have achieved a better understanding of each other's concerns," said Eide after a six meeting between the two leaders this month.

He said the leaders also agreed to set up a committee of experts to examine their two education systems to help foster cooperation and contribute to peace. Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of uniting the island with Greece.

The leaders will meet three more times in December as they try to build on momentum since the resumption of talks in May after a pause triggered by a feud over offshore oil and gas exploration rights.

Cyprus' ethnic schism has eluded numerous rounds of negotiations over more than four decades and the leaders face complex issues that have calcified over time, including how to deal with private property lost during the war.

"I'm not abandoning hope that our efforts will bear fruit as long as both sides have the same good will," Anastasiades said after the meeting.

Akinci repeated that an accord can be hammered out before mid-2016.

Apart from the long-term economic benefits a reunified Cyprus stands to reap, a peace deal would offer a measure of stability in a region torn by conflict. It could also ease cooperation on newly-discovered gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is due in Cyprus next week to offer support for the talks.