Tutu, Carter Goads Peace Deal in War-Split Cyprus

Nobel peace laureates former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former U.S. president Jimmy Carter said war-divided Cyprus is close to reaching a peace settlement that would reunite the small island after decades of separation.

"We're on the verge of seeing an agreement here," Carter told a news conference held inside the U.N.-controlled buffer zone splitting the island on Thursday, according to The Associated Press. "I believe it is quite likely that we will have success."

The Mediterranean island has been divided into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south since 1974, when Turkey invaded Cyprus in response to an attempted coup by Greek Cypriot nationalists aimed at annexing the island with Greece.

Since the division, hundreds of churches have been damaged or destroyed, and Christian relics have been auctioned off in northern Cyprus under Turkish control.

Cyprus is the land that Apostle Paul took his first missionary journey to proclaim the Gospel to the Roman Empire. It contains invaluable works of art from the 1st century A.D. and some of the finest collection of Byzantine art works in the world.

But more than 15,000 portable religious icons have been stolen and auctioned off in Northern Cyprus, according to the Cyprus embassy in the United States.

Also, it is said that only one church remains semi-active in Northern Cyprus.

More than 80 percent of the Republic of Cyprus, or the Greek Cypriot south, is Christian.

This week, as part of an organization known as The Elders – a group of 12 Nobel laureates and human rights activists created to help resolve global crisis – Carter, Tutu, and former Algerian foreign minister Lakhdar Brahimi are visiting Cyprus.

They have met separately with each of the Cypriot leaders as well as the U.N. envoy, Alexander Downer, and community leaders.

"We have said to these two splendid leaders that it is their moment in history, it is a moment that we hope they will catch," Tutu said. "We want to say, go for it, go for it."

Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat restarted reunification talks last month. They held their fourth meeting on Friday and agreed to push forth with the peace process by holding weekly negotiations to reunify the country, according to AP.

International leaders say that the talks are the best chance for peace on the island in decades, given that for the first time two relatively young and moderate leaders are in charge.

Cypriot leaders also held similar peace talks four years ago that failed.

"We have come to give encouragement to the initiative and the very courageous steps the leaders of the two communities have taken. We think it's a very exciting time," Tutu told reporters on Wednesday, the day of his arrival in Cyprus.

"We want to be able to tell the people that nowhere in the world do you really have intractable problems. I come from South Africa where they believed the problem of apartheid would be resolved only through violence," he added.

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