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UN: Secretary-General Extends Deadline On Cyprus To 10 March

  • Jean-Christophe Peuch

Prague, 28 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today granted leaders of Cyprus's rival communities an additional 10 days to agree on his peace proposals, effectively admitting defeat in his bid to get his reunification plan approved by today's original deadline.

Annan addressed reporters today after an hour-long meeting with Greek Cypriot President-elect Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. He said he has given both men until 10 March to approve or reject a proposal to call separate reunification referendums at the end of March. "I told [the two leaders] yesterday that I would expect them to arrive [in The Hague] prepared there and then to tell me whether or not they would sign a commitment in The Hague to submit the foundation agreement to approval at separate, simultaneous referenda on March 30 in order to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem," Annan said.

Reading a brief statement, Annan also made it clear he would not tolerate any further delay. "I have also asked the leaders to arrive in The Hague having completed all necessary internal consultation processes so that on March 10 their response is definitive," Annan said.

Annan arrived on the divided Mediterranean island on 26 February in a last-ditch attempt to secure a reunification deal before today's deadline. However, it soon became clear that neither of the Cypriot leaders was prepared to accept his 450-page draft peace plan without further negotiations.

Denktash yesterday rejected Annan's blueprint -- the third to date -- describing it as "trickery." The island's Greek leaders have only said the plan would require "painful concessions."

In Annan's view, a "yes" vote in the 30 March referendums would leave just enough time for both community leaders to strike a reunification deal before Cyprus signs an accession treaty with the European Union on 16 April.

The island has been divided along ethnic lines since July 1974, when neighboring Turkey invaded its northernmost third in response to an aborted coup backed by the military junta then in power in Athens.

Despite the Turkish occupation, Cyprus's Greek administration applied for EU membership in 1990 on behalf of the whole island. At an enlargement summit held last December in Copenhagen, the 15-member bloc invited Cyprus and nine Central and Eastern European countries to join in May 2004.

Failure to reach a reunification deal would leave the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) out of the EU's jurisdiction and in essence grant it de facto international recognition. Created in 1983, the TRNC is recognized only by Turkey, which maintains some 35,000 soldiers and 100,000 settlers there.

Details of the present blueprint have not been officially published. Yet media reports say that, like its two predecessors, it envisages the creation of a decentralized single-state, two-community federation with some common institutions.

The newest draft also reportedly proposes to reduce the area of the island's Turkish-held part to 28.2 percent -- compared with 28.6 percent in the previous versions -- from the current 36.2 percent.

Annan's latest proposal also sees the voluntary return of some 90,000 Greek Cypriots who fled northern Cyprus in the wake of Turkey's military intervention. At the same time, the new blueprint says the number of Greek Cypriots allowed to live under Turkish administration should not exceed 21 percent.

But Denktash today reiterated his opposition to the plan, saying territorial adjustments envisaged by the UN threatened to drive some 40,000 Turkish Cypriots from their homes.

The TRNC leader seemed to leave little doubt about the answer he would deliver in The Hague next month, saying that calling a popular referendum on the complex UN blueprint would be neither "correct" nor "democratic." "We should not be going to [The] Hague to say 'yes.' Even if the answer is 'no,' we should still go and explain [to Annan] why it is 'no,'" Denktash said.

Annan today warned that failure to reach a compromise by 10 March would lead to serious consequences for the island's divided communities. "If one party or the other says 'no,' there is no doubt that this is the end of the road," he said before leaving Cyprus.

Meanwhile, Denktash is facing increasing pressure at home to endorse the UN draft. An estimated 40,000 to 70,000 Turkish Cypriots yesterday poured into the streets of Lefkosa, the Turkish-held part of the divided Cypriot capital Nicosia, to express support for the UN peace draft.

Waving EU flags and carrying banners reading "Save Us, Mr. Annan" and "Yes to a Solution, Yes to the EU," the protesters urged Denktash to strike a compromise with the island's Greek administration or step down.

An overwhelming majority of the 85,000 Cyprus-born Turks believe entry into the EU will improve living standards in the island's north, where per capita income is roughly one-quarter of that in the south.