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NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The leaders of ethnically divided Cyprus' rival Greek and Turkish speaking communities will relaunch stalled talks aimed at reunifying the island on May 15, a United Nations envoy said Monday, in what is being billed as a "unique opportunity" for peace.
Espen Barth Eide announced the date after hosting a dinner for Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and new Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci in what was the two men's first meeting.
Hopes for a breakthrough got a boost after Akinci, a left-wing moderate, soundly defeated hard-line incumbent Dervis Eroglu in an election last month.
"I think this is a unique opportunity that will be grasped and it's truly rewarding to work with two leaders with such a strong commitment to seeing a shared challenge that can only be solved through shared effort," Eide said after the dinner.
Eide said the leaders agreed to seize the momentum and move forward "without delay." He said the leaders will start off on May 15 with a "general exchange of views" and decide on how to structure negotiations as well as the frequency of meetings.
Cyprus was split into a breakaway, Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece.
Several hundred Greek and Turkish Cypriots staged an impromptu demonstration in support of the leaders in front of the dinner venue, the Ledra Palace Hotel that lies inside the U.N.-controlled buffer zone cutting across the capital.
Many demonstrators held placards reading "Solution Now" in Greek, Turkish and English.
"After 41 years it's enough," said 21 year-old Turkish Cypriot Hakan Coban. "I want peace in Cyprus, there's new hope now and I want to be a part of it."
Anastasiades put talks on ice last October amid a clash with Turkey and Turkish Cypriots over rights to exploit the island's potential offshore oil and gas reserves.
Both leaders have said they would be willing to move forward with tangible, trust-building steps that would run in tandem with formal negotiations.
One such step is to open up Varosha, a fenced-off suburb of Famagusta that has morphed into a virtual ghost town after being kept under the Turkish army's strict control since 1974.
Cyprus government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said the talks will pick up where they had left off last year with the leaders tackling core issues including how power will be shared in an envisioned federation.