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GENEVA (Reuters) - United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday urged leaders of ethnically-split Cyprus to grasp a 'historic opportunity' for peace, but acknowledged work was required.
Guterres joined the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders and representatives from Britain, Turkey and Greece at the Swiss Alpine resort where negotiations for a peace deal are taking place.
"The voices in support of a solution are indeed getting louder. At the same time there is no doubt that some sensitive and difficult issues remain to be resolved," Guterres told reporters in Crans-Montana.
Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. The conflict remains a source of tension between NATO allies Greece and Turkey, and hinders Ankara's ambition of joining the European Union.
Turkey's military presence in northern Cyprus, where it maintains a contingent of up to 30,000 troops, is a key source of contention, along with Turkish Cypriot calls for a rotating presidency with Greek Cypriots.
"The security and guarantees chapter is of crucial importance for a comprehensive solution," said Guterres. He said there was a commitment to find mutually acceptable solutions that would meet the concerns of both communities.
In the session on security and guarantees, "there were some new positions showing increased flexibility in some aspects", he said, without elaboration.
"But it is slow progress and many outstanding issues are still to be resolved," he said.
The conflict has defied mediators in the past. Diplomats say Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci have come closer than any of their predecessors in crafting an accord to unite the island as a two-zone federation.
At present, Greek Cypriots live in Cyprus's south which represents the island in the European Union and Turkish Cypriots live in an unrecognised state in the north.
Writing By Michele Kambas; Editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Janet Lawrence