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Cyprus talks 'on track' with foreign ministers set to arrive

GENEVA (AP) -- Talks to reunify long-divided Cyprus are on track to overcome major obstacles that have stood in the way of a peace accord for decades, the United Nations envoy for Cyprus said Wednesday.

But a deal likely won't emerge immediately from a summit in Geneva this week since important technical details need to be sorted out before the island's rival Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities can vote on an overall agreement, U.N. envoy Espen Barth Eide said.

He said the framework of an accord could emerge, however, if Cyprus' so-called guarantors agree on post-unification security arrangements when the foreign ministers of Turkey, Greece and former colonial power Britain join the talks.

"So don't expect that we will be walking home from Geneva -- or rather flying -- to Cyprus with a comprehensive settlement in our hands," Eides told reporters. "But we will go home with a sense that it is coming."

Eide said the Greek Cypriot president and the Turkish Cypriot leader would present competing maps later Wednesday that outline the boundaries of the Greek and Turkish zones that would make up the country in a hoped-for federation.

The proposals will be seen by only a handful of people before being placed in a U.N. vault in Geneva, a testament to the sensitivity of the diplomatic task, Eide said. Experts will then study the two maps to ensure they meet the terms of the deal before the leaders work out a compromise. It is unclear when that will happen.

Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci have been meeting in Geneva since Monday to discuss a number of outstanding issues that could restore unity to the island split by ethnic divisions for almost 43 years.

Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 in response to a coup aiming to unite the island with Greece. Many residents were stripped of homes and property when Cyprus divided into an official Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish north where Turkey has more than 35,000 troops stationed.

Top leaders from the European Union, which counts Cyprus as a member, are also expected to join the talks Thursday that will concentrate on how to ensure and who will oversee post-settlement security.

"I really think, without overdramatizing what is happening in Geneva, that this is the very last chance to see the island being recomposed in a normal way," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters in Malta's capital on Wednesday.

Eide downplayed Junker's remark, calling the Geneva talks the "best chance" for peace. He pointed to "historic" advances happening at the summit, which is the first time the rival boundary maps will be exchanged and the three guarantor powers will be around the table at such a high-level.

"We are on track," Eide said. "We have dealt with some of the most difficult issues. We have touched upon almost all of them, we have solved many of them, and we are close to solving some other issues."

Eide did not rule out the possibility that British Prime Minister Theresa May, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan might turn up at some point, but only if a deal was in hand.

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Hadjicostis reported from Nicosia, Cyprus. Raf Casert contributed from Brussels, Belgium.