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UN: Annan Admits Defeat After Cyprus Leaders Miss Deadline To Endorse Peace Plan

  • Jean-Christophe Peuch

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan suffered a bitter personal blow today after rival Cyprus leaders missed a 10 March deadline to agree on his draft peace plan. Annan immediately announced an end to his extensive efforts to reunite the island before it signs an accession treaty with the European Union next month. But Ankara, the main sponsor of Cyprus' Turkish community, says the door is not totally closed on a peaceful solution.

Prague, 11 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Months of intense diplomatic efforts aimed at ending nearly 29 years of ethnic division on the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus ended in frustration today after rival community leaders failed to endorse a UN-drafted peace plan.

After negotiating through the night with the Greek and Turkish Cypriot presidents in The Hague, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan early this morning acknowledged his mediation efforts had collapsed. Addressing reporters after the talks, UN Cyprus envoy Alvaro De Soto read out a statement from Annan:

"I share tonight with all peace-loving Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, Greeks and Turks, a deep sense of sadness. I am not sure another opportunity like this one will present itself again anytime soon. Nevertheless, I want the people of Cyprus to know that I have not given up on them. I saw in their eyes their longing for peace and reunification. I regret that they have been denied the chance to decide their own future." The talks collapsed after newly elected Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos stormed out of the meeting room, accusing his Turkish Cypriot counterpart, Rauf Denktash, of refusing to compromise.

Annan had summoned both rival community leaders to the Netherlands to get their commitment to put a proposed UN draft peace plan to separate and simultaneous referendums later this month. A "yes" vote would have left just enough time for Papadopoulos and Denktash to strike a reunification deal before the island signs an accession treaty with the European Union on 16 April.

At an enlargement summit held on 12-13 December in Copenhagen, the EU invited Cyprus and nine Central and Eastern European countries to join in May 2004.

Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since July 1974, when Turkish troops landed on the northern one-third of the island after a failed coup backed by Greece's military junta. Despite the military occupation and the subsequent creation of the Ankara-sponsored Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), Cyprus's Greek administration applied for EU membership in 1990 on behalf of the whole island.

With no agreement on the UN peace plan, only the Greek-held part of Cyprus will sign the EU accession treaty next month.

Failure to reunify the island will also leave the TRNC out of the EU's jurisdiction when the island joins the bloc next year. It will also leave Turkey -- the only country that recognizes the TRNC -- occupying part of an EU member state.

Ankara, which also seeks membership into the EU, maintains an estimated 35,000 troops and more than 100,000 settlers in northern Cyprus.

The European Commission today again warned Turkey that continued failure to reach an agreement on Cyprus could hamper its own bid to join the bloc.

Unlike its predecessors, Turkey's four-month old Islamic-rooted government has suggested that Ankara might agree to compromise over the Cyprus issue, if only to boost its own chances of joining the EU in 2005.

Addressing reporters today in Ankara hours before resigning to make way for AK chairman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Gul said Turkey will continue to seek a solution to the island's division: "From the beginning, the stance of our government on Cyprus has been that we do not consider a lack of solution to be a solution. And we continue to believe this. We made every possible effort to solve this problem, and we will continue to do so in the future."

Gul made it clear, however, that Turkey will continue to support Denktash during the negotiation process.

But the Adalet ve Kalkinma (Justice and Development) cabinet of Prime Minister Abdullah Gul faces strong resistance from representatives of Turkey's civilian and military bureaucracies, as well as from President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who continue to see Cyprus as a "national cause." Another problem, analysts point out, is that Turkey's AK ruling party does not have a united stance on Cyprus.

The Turkish prime minister made it clear, however, that his government will continue to support Denktash during the negotiation process: "An agreement could not be reached [in The Hague], but the doors were not totally closed. Therefore we will all do our share to make sure that this difficult issue ends positively. We believe, however, that the concerns of Turkey as well as those of the TRNC must be understood. We will do whatever is necessary to find a solution to this problem but we will not overlook any future problem just for the sake of solving this issue."

In addition to Turkey's resistance, the inflexible attitude of Denktash is generally considered the main obstacle to a Cyprus solution.

The TRNC leader is facing growing pressure at home to strike a deal with the island's Greek administration. 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.

On 28 February, between 40,000 and 70,000 Turkish Cypriots took to the street of Lefkosa, the Turkish-held part of the divided capital, Nicosia, to demand that Denktash agree on the UN peace plan or resign. Similar protests were held in previous months to compel the Turkish Cypriot leader to reach a compromise with the island's Greek administration.

Denktash, who knows the overwhelming majority of Cyprus-born Turks do not support his hard-line stance, has persistently said there was no need to put the UN draft to popular vote.

Addressing reporters today in The Hague, Papadopoulos blamed his Turkish counterpart for failing to endorse Annan's blueprint -- the third to date: "[As the secretary-general has himself admitted,] all the things we asked for were within the parameters and within the overall Annan-3 plan. [Whereas] Mr. Denktash [has] repeatedly stated -- and more so tonight, last night -- that he wants to bring about radical changes to the whole philosophy and foundation of the plan. Because, as he [has] said, [this] plan does not meet his expectations [of] what he wants to see as a solution."

Talking to journalists at a separate press briefing, Denktash attempted to clear his name, saying the Greek Cypriot side came out with unexpected last-minute claims. He also said he could not be held responsible for the failure of yesterday's talks since he had been objecting to the UN blueprint ever since Annan put in on the table: "The secretary-general knew that the plan, in its present form, could not be submitted to a referendum on the Turkish [Cypriot] side. We came [to The Hague] to once again explain him the reasons for [our objections]. He offered us an opportunity to do so and initiated a discussion on this [issue]. We told him once again, both orally and in writing, which aspects [of the plan] we wanted to have amended and why."

Details of the latest UN blueprint have yet to be officially published. But press reports say that, like its two predecessors, it envisages the creation of a decentralized single-state, two-community federation with some common institutions. Denktash, in turn, insists that Cyprus enter the EU as a confederation of two sovereign states.

In addition, the UN draft also proposes to reduce the area of the island's Turkish-held territory to 28.2 percent from a current 36.2 percent. Annan's proposals also include the voluntary return of some 90,000 Greek Cypriots who fled northern Cyprus in the wake of Turkey's military intervention.

Although the UN blueprint says the number of Greek Cypriots allowed to live under Turkish administration should not exceed 21 percent, Denktash argues the plan threatens to drive tens of thousands of ethnic Turks out of their homes and turn the Turkish-held part of the island into a "second Palestine."

Annan today left open the possibility of resuming talks at a later stage. But he nevertheless ordered his envoy on the island to close his office and return to New York.

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