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Cyprus: Greek Cypriot Vote Clouds Hopes For Reunification

Annan expressed disappointment in the Greek Cypriot vote 25 April 2004 -- The United Nations says it will close the office of its peace envoy in Cyprus following the overwhelming rejection by Greek Cypriots of a UN plan to reunify the divided island. Meanwhile, the United States and senior European Union officials are expressing disappointment about the rejection of the plan by the Greek Cypriots.

In a referendum yesterday, more than 75 percent of Greek Cypriot voters voted against the UN plan to end the 30-year division of the island. In a separate vote on the northern side of the island, nearly 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots supported the UN plan.

UN envoy Alvaro de Soto, who helped draft the failed reunification plan, was among the international officials expressing disappointment about the way Greek Cypriots voted: "A unique and historic chance to resolve the Cyprus problem has been missed. The [UN] secretary-general [Kofi Annan] intends to give careful thought to the implications of today's result. Meanwhile, Cyprus will remain divided and militarized as it accedes to the European Union and the benefits of a settlement will not be realized."

Analyst James Ker-Lindsey thinks the vote may have cemented the division of Cyprus.
Guenter Verheugen, the commissioner in charge of EU enlargement, said a "shadow" had been placed over Cyprus' EU membership. As a result of the Greek Cypriot vote, EU laws and benefits will only apply to the internationally-recognized Greek Cypriot-administered southern part of the island. Verheugen said the long-festering Cyprus problem, which has brought NATO allies Turkey and Greece to the verge of war on two occasions, will be "imported" into the EU on 1 May along with all of its complexities and emotional baggage.

Speaking after the results of yesterday's referendum were announced, Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos expressed hope that the peace process for Cyprus will continue to move forward: "The result of [Saturday's] referendum must act as a catalyst for reunification and not as a pretext for further division. We Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots deserve a safe future within the European family as one country, as the one people, of Cyprus."

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul says support for reunification by Turkish Cypriots should bring about an end to their political and economic isolation.

Analyst Hubert Foustmann, a professor of international relations at Intercollege in Cyprus, says most Greek Cypriots want reunification but were simply not happy about the UN approach. Foustmann says Greek Cypriots are gambling by rejecting the UN plan because a substantially different plan is unlikely in the near future: "The best chance the Greek Cypriots have [to achieve reunification on their own terms] is that as long as Turkey tries to become a member of the European Union, the Cyprus problem will have to be solved. And this is the gamble the Greek Cypriot [voters] took [on Saturday by rejecting the UN plan]."

Analyst James Ker-Lindsey, an expert on Cyprus from the independent policy research group Civilitas Research, was less optimistic. He says he thinks yesterday's vote may have cemented the division of Cyprus: "The trouble is the Greek Cypriots have gone overwhelmingly against this plan. And so, initial thoughts that there could be a second referendum on [the Greek Cypriot] side, or two multiple referenda on both sides again, have been thrown into doubt. It's very difficult to see how this plan can be represented to the people under its current form."

Ker-Lindsey says that although countries like Azerbaijan are signaling they will recognize Northern Cyprus, he says it will be impossible for countries in the European Union to do so: "The European Union cannot recognize Northern Cyprus. On the first of May, the Republic of Cyprus joins the European Union. And it is all of the island of Cyprus. And so, we are going to be left in this very strange [situation in which] some countries might recognize Cyprus, but the core international community -- and as far as Cyprus is concerned, its partners in the European Union -- won't be able to. And so we're still going to have a Cyprus problem."

The European Commission has praised Turkish Cypriots for their "Yes" vote and has said it will consider ways to promote economic development in the poorer Turkish half of the island.

(International news agencies)