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Cyprus peace talks interrupted by old plebiscite row

By Michele Kambas

ATHENS (Reuters) - Face-to-face talks between both sides of divided Cyprus broke off on Thursday, sources at the meeting said, after the Greek Cypriot parliament angered Turkish Cypriots by honoring a 1950 plebiscite seeking union with Greece.

The meeting between Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart, Mustafa Akinci, ended abruptly about an hour after it started, after which a go-between had to shuttle between the two to keep the peace process on track.

"Both leaders very strongly said they are committed to this process, and nobody sees this process as over, or terminated, or suspended," said Espen Barth Eide, the United Nations special envoy who is overseeing the peace negotiations which have been ongoing for almost two years.

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The talks aim to end the division of the island, for decades a source of tension between NATO allies Greece and Turkey and an obstacle to Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

Cyprus's parliament, comprised solely of Greek Cypriots, adopted a resolution on Feb. 9 commemorating a 1950 unofficial referendum where more than 95 percent of that community voted for "enosis", or union, with Greece.

The anger that caused among Turkish Cypriots reflects the historic sensitivities on the island which was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek Cypriot coup by elements of the military seeking union with Greece.

The two sides gave differing accounts of what happened on Thursday.

Anastasiades said he took a short break and returned to find Akinci gone. Akinci said Anastasiades walked out, slamming the door.

"Enosis" has always been a deep source of resentment among Turkish Cypriots, and was partly the cause of inter-communal clashes in the 1960s shortly after the island gained independence from Britain.

The notion of unification with Greece has, officially at least, been abandoned as a concept for decades. The Mediterranean island has been a member state of the EU since 2004.

Last week's vote was proposed by a small nationalist party. Anastasiades's conservatives abstained and the left-wing party voted against it.

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)