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Cyprus: UN To Proceed With Referendums After Talks Fail

Prague, 1 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A dual referendum on a UN reunification plan for Cyprus will be presented directly to Greek and Turkish Cypriot voters on 24 April after officials from the two sides failed to bridge their differences.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan made the announcement last night at the end of 10 days of negotiations in Buergenstock, Switzerland, involving the prime ministers of Turkey and Greece, as well as Turkish and Greek Cypriot negotiators.

Annan's plan is the fourth version of a reunification blueprint the UN first presented in November 2002. The plan represents a final attempt to strike a deal between Turkish and Greek Cypriots that would allow a unified Cyprus to enter the European Union on 1 May. If the plan is rejected, only the Greek Cypriot side will enter.

"Outsiders have decided how the settlement should be. They are giving us a limited margin for changing what they have put on paper. They are in a great, shameful hurry to finish the job, and the pressure on us is really unacceptable."
Annan had been authorized to put his final touches on the settlement and bring it before voters if the two sides failed to agree on the plan amongst themselves.

Annan appealed to all Cypriots to approve the plan.

"The choice is not between this settlement plan and some other magical or mythical solution. In reality, at this stage, the choice is between this settlement or no settlement," Annan said.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed hope that Turkish and Greek Cypriots will back the UN plan.

Greek Prime Minister Costas Caramanlis said it is "up to the people of Cyprus to reach a decision."

Annan's plan would establish a loose federation with a central government, giving the two communities large degrees of autonomy. It also calls for concessions from both sides, including restrictions on the movement of people from the internationally recognized, prosperous Greek south to the poorer Turkish north.

The main bone of contention regards the rights of some 180,000 Greek Cypriots to return to homes in the north of the island from which they either fled or were forced out following the 1974 Turkish invasion.

The Turkish side, fearing domination by the wealthier and more populous Greek Cypriots, has insisted that returns should be limited.

Greek Cypriots are concerned at planned restrictions on settling in the Turkish Cypriot north, which they view as contravening European Union law.

Annan's plan provides for a proportion of Greek Cypriot refugees to go back, while Turkey must drastically reduce -- but not entirely withdraw -- the number of troops it maintains on the island -- currently around 30,000 soldiers.

Annan said EU membership by a unified Cyprus would usher in more freedom of movement on the island.

"If the settlement is approved in the referenda next month, Cyprus would reunify in time to accede to the European Union. After only a short interval, freedom of movement would prevail without borderlike checkpoints," Annan said.

Opinion polls suggest the power-sharing plan will be rejected by the Greek Cypriot south because of the concessions it demands.

The climate is slightly different in the Turkish Cypriot north, where a pro-settlement party won a majority of votes in a general election last December.

But veteran hard-line Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash today rejected the plan, saying he does "not see anything to vote 'yes' to."

Denktash yesterday also criticized what he said is outside interference.

"Outsiders have decided how the settlement should be. They are giving us a limited margin for changing what they have put on paper. They are in a great, shameful hurry to finish the job, and the pressure on us is really unacceptable," Denktash said.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen today appealed to both sides to vote in favor of the deal and not to throw away what he called "remarkable progress."

In a statement that could have implications for Turkey's own bid to open EU membership negotiations next year, Verheugen praised what he called Ankara's "very constructive and cooperative role in the negotiations."