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Christian, Muslim Leaders Back Talks

NICOSIA— Christian and Muslim leaders in Cyprus on Wednesday repeated their full support for ongoing talks aimed at reunifying the ethnically-split country, saying their united stand for peace serves as a strong example of cooperation in a region where conflict is often fueled by religion.

Greek Orthodox Christian Archbishop Chrysostomos, Muslim Grand Mufti Talip Atalay, Maronite Christian Archibshop Youssef Soueif and representatives from the Latin Catholic and Armenian Christian churches say they’re united in their support of the ongoing peace negotiations seen as the best chance at peace in decades.

“For the whole region that is suffering at the moment, we hope that we can be a good example for them,” Atalay said.

The leaders made the remarks after a meeting with U.N. envoy Espen Barth Eide, who praised them for their “strong leadership and strong will.”

Eide said given the religious leaders’ determined stance, “there is no chance” Cyprus will follow the example of many political conflicts in the region that are “exploited and made into religious conflicts.”

Cyprus was split into an internationally-recognized Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup aiming at union with Greece.

Nicos Anastasiades, CyprusGreek Cypriot president and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci have said much progress has been made after nine months of negotiations, but important hurdles remain like how to deal with property abandoned during the war.

“Whatever we can offer we will do with great joy so that this country can see peace and prosperity,” said Archbishop Chrysostomos.

Archbishop Soueif said the leaders also touched on improving access to all places of worship across the island to bolster a sense among Cypriots that reconciliation has deeply taken root.

MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS, Associated Press

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