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Cyprus: Crucial Talks On Unity Extended One Day For 'Reflection'

  • Robert McMahon

Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders have agreed to continue talks today at the United Nations in the hopes of finding common ground to work out a plan for reunifying the island. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the leaders together for what is seen as a last-chance effort to unify Cyprus ahead of the planned 1 May accession of the Greek-governed part of the island to the European Union. The outcome is likely to affect Turkey's own EU aspirations.

United Nations, 11 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- UN-brokered talks between the leaders of Cyprus's Greek and Turkish entities will resume later today amid uncertainty over 11th-hour attempts to bring together the divided island.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday hosted nearly three hours of talks with Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. Papadopoulos told reporters afterward the sides were not "in a position to make a conclusion." He and Denktash are to resume talks later today.

A top adviser to Annan, Alvaro de Soto, described it as a "constructive discussion" but said all participants have been asked to refrain from discussing details before today's meeting. He would only say that more time is needed. "We hope that after a night and a morning of reflection, we will come close," he said.

"If Annan is flexible on his deadlines and the discussion of things and explains how he's going to 'fill the gaps,' all right, that's good, and they will participate. But if he's firm [and says], 'No, this is it, and I will decide,' eventually the talks will end."
UN officials have indicated that the two sides, in agreeing to meet Annan, were prepared to accept his terms for final talks on a reunification agreement. They include a call for both sides to put the plan to a referendum on 21 April, regardless of how far negotiations have progressed. Both sides have expressed reservations about that demand.

Papadopoulos has said referendums should only come after the two sides have reached agreement on every point.

Apostolos Zoupaniotis is a Greek journalist who covers the talks for the Cyprus News Agency. He told RFE/RL there is unease among Greek Cypriots about being rushed into an agreement that may interfere with their European Union accession plans. But others are concerned, he said, that without a reunification agreement, Cyprus's border with the Turkish statelet will become a new Berlin Wall, of sorts, after it joins the European Union.

"If Annan is flexible on his deadlines and the discussion of things and explains how he's going to 'fill the gaps,' all right, that's good, and they will participate. But if he's firm [and says], 'No, this is it, and I will decide,' eventually the talks will end," Zoupaniotis said.

Annan's plan calls for a single state with Greek and Turkish Cypriot federal regions linked through a central government. Denktash, the Turkish Cypriot leader, has said Annan's plan does not give his side political equality. He said Greek Cypriots moving to the north would soon outnumber the minority ethnic Turks.

Despite the misgivings, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard says UN officials are hoping the two sides commit in New York to reach an agreement. If so, then detailed technical talks would resume as soon as possible between both sides, with UN envoy De Soto playing a key role.

Eckhard says the EU accession date of 1 May is providing motivation for the parties to resume talks in a serious way. "I think everyone's working assumption is that what they are beginning to undertake today is with a view to concluding by 1 May," he said.

Annan said earlier this week that a unified Cyprus entering the European Union would help improve relations in the Aegean region and facilitate Turkey's entry into Europe. Turkey would be in a difficult position if accession happened without unification. Turkey, with more than 30,000 troops in Northern Cyprus, could face a veto by Cyprus to its EU application.

Cyprus has been territorially divided between Turkish and Greek communities since 1974 when Turkey invaded the island's northeastern third, in response to a coup backed by Greece's military junta.

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, created in 1983, is recognized by Turkey alone. Turkey has put heavy pressure on Denktash, who was blamed for the collapse of last year's talks, to resume negotiations.
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