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Cyprus: New UN Peace Plan Seen As Last Chance Before EU Entry

Cypriots of both Greek and Turkish ethnic origin are studying a peace plan presented this week by the United Nations aimed at uniting Cyprus almost 30 years after the two communities were divided by violence and intolerance. The plan is an intricate one that may or may not be able to satisfy the two communities. But at any rate, the blueprint, unveiled by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, represents a last chance to reunite the divided island before the Greek part heads into the European Union, as is expected to happen in 2004.

Prague, 12 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan this week unveiled a complicated peace plan designed to bring together Cyprus's estranged communities of Greeks and Turks.

The plan is being seen as the last chance to reunify the divided island ahead of the European Union's expected decision in December to admit the Greek Cypriot part of the island by 2004.

The EU is working from the practical assumption that there will be no overall peace settlement by then. But in remarks in Brussels yesterday, European Commission President Romano Prodi indirectly referred to the UN plan and its possibilities, saying he would have been happier "to have the whole of Cyprus in [the European Union]. [But] because of the political division, we have to choose the second-best, to have part of Cyprus in. If there are new political events that make possible the first choice, we are happy."

Annan's plan is based heavily on the Swiss model of government, in which cantons preserve wide independence but form a common state at the federal level. In the case of Cyprus, the proposal is for a federal executive composed of a six-member presidential council, with a rotating presidency and vice presidency. The period of rotation between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot representatives would be 10 months and would be proportional to the two communities' populations.

The plan is designed to reinvigorate the stalled UN-sponsored dialogue between Greek Cypriot leader Glafcos Clerides and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Rauf Denktash. Annan has asked both sides to ponder the plan, and give an initial reaction by 18 November.

The diplomatic correspondent of the Turkish newspaper "Hurriyet," Ugur Ergan, said in Ankara that the peace plan is now the center of attention. "The [two] sides are really serious about the [peace] paper, though these are the first evaluations. All the experts are now working on the paper. They are trying to establish what the consequences [of the peace plan] are," Ergan said.

Ergan said the mood on Cyprus is in favor of peace, but he said the Turkish Cypriot population, which is smaller than the Greek Cypriot population, will not accept an unconditional peace. "Peace has to have some qualifications. It has to be comprehensive, it has to be lasting, it has to be fair. If the paper presented by Mr. Kofi Annan can provide to the parties such qualifications, I'm sure that in the very near future, we can talk about a peace [being achieved]," Ergan said.

Ergan said the Denktash government and the Turkish government in Ankara are going to consult closely on the plan.

The editor of the English-language "Cyprus Weekly," Martin Henry, said some aspects of the Annan plan are worrying to Greek Cypriots. "There are grave doubts about certain aspects of [the plan]," he said. "Especially the fact that it does not seem to take account of the UN Security Council resolutions passed over recent years, particularly with regard to the return of the refugees, a large number of them won't be going back, at least not immediately, and this is something which is bothering the Greek Cypriot side very, very seriously indeed," Henry said.

Henry, whose newspaper is based on the Greek side of the divide in Nicosia, noted that there are about a quarter of a million Greek Cypriot refugees displaced from the Turkish zone. Since the 1974 Turkish military intervention in Cyprus, the Turkish Cypriot minority has controlled the northern one-third of the island.

He said the plan envisages some refugees returning to their former homes, notably in the port of Famagusta and to the Morphou area, but no returns to many other areas. "Those refugees who would be returning would get their properties back, and the refugees who would not be returning would simply be [financially] compensated," Henry said.

Henry said this omission of the right of return is being seen by some Greek Cypriots as a de facto justification of the 1974 invasion. That invasion followed a Greek Cypriot coup in Nicosia supported by the then-ruling Greek military junta in Athens.

Henry pointed out that Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis seems quite positive about the plan but only as a basis for negotiation and not as a finished document.

As for Ankara, he said the plan goes a long way toward giving the Turks what they have been seeking in Cyprus, namely granting the two entities a large degree of independence.

At the moment, there are mixed signals coming from Turkey, as the victor in this month's general election, the Islamic-rooted Justice and Progress Party, has not had time to properly settle in.