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President Mustafa Akıncı and the Greek Cypriot leader Nikos Anastasiades met with 5 religious leaders in Cyprus yesterday.

The meeting between the two leaders and the religious leaders was held at the Ledra Palace Hotel at the Buffer Zone in Lefkoşa.

Prof. Dr. Talip Atalay on behalf of Presidency of Religious Affairs, Archbishop II. Hrisostomos on behalf of Greek Orthodox Church, Archbishop Soueif on behalf of Cyprus Maronite Church, Archbishop Narek on behalf of Cyprus Armenian Orthodox Church, Jerzi Kraj on behalf of Cyprus Latin Catholic Church and Ambassador of Sweden Klas Gierov attended the meeting.

The issues of accession to the religious places and support of the religious leaders for the solution process were discussed during the meeting.

In remarks after the meeting, the moderator of the Office of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process, Peter Weiderud said the religious leaders of Cyprus have come a long way since the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process under the auspices of the Embassy of Sweden brought them together in 2009. “At that time the religious leaders had not talked to each other, only about each other and their communities, since the conflict started in 1963”. He said the Cyprus conflict “is not a religious conflict but religion and freedom of religion have become victims of the conflict” and as many other human rights principles, “religion has sometimes been used to fuel the conflict of this island”.

He remarked that the “willingness of both community leaders to meet with the religious leaders in Ledra Palace gives great hope not only for the advancement of the common agenda on freedom of religion and belief but also how religion and dialogue of the religious leaders can better contribute to sustainable peace on the island and that has very much been the focus of the talks today”.

Weiderud said the religious leaders reiterated their principle request to have free access forworship, upkeep, renovation and restoration of their respective religious monuments on both sides of the Green Line. They also reiterated, and it was appreciated, to have regular meetings when needed between the religious leaders and the community leaders.

The religious leaders also reiterated their position outlined in February where they expressed their support to the political process and offered “their strong support to the community leaders to the dedicated work they are doing”.

Asked whether the discussion included the issue of religious property on both sides, Weiderud said the “principle of access to all places of worship has been addressed not only today but continuously by all religious leaders”. He said this was fully understood by the community leaders and fully shared. “This is a basic principle of human rights”, he said, adding that with the history of the conflict “we are talking about a lot of practical problems”. He explained that some of these issues have to take some time to resolve and it is important to find the proper mechanism to do that. “We are talking several hundred of places of worship and monuments where there is problem with access and limitations on both sides. It is a huge problem but it has to be addressed in a proper and sustainable way”, he remarked.

Asked if something tangible has come out of the first meeting of the political and religious leaders, he said “this has been the first meeting in the history of Cyprus in this setting, between the religious leaders and the political leaders. We cannot expect to come out with a lot of details and what has been decided. That would be unfair and unwise”.

Weiderud said “it was a meeting of sharing and perspectives and offering a common understanding and also hope for the future of Cyprus and hope for a solution. This they all agree upon. So they have discussed specific issues but they have to be announced by the religious leaders and by political leaders in due time”.

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