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UN: Annan Presses Cypriot Leaders To Compromise As Deadline Looms

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has presented Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders with a final draft of his plan to reunify the divided island before its southern administration signs an accession treaty with the European Union in six weeks. Chances of a peace deal being struck before a UN-set deadline expires look dim, however, even though the two sides have been given a few extra days to reach a compromise.

Prague, 27 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan held talks today with Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders in a last-ditch attempt to secure a reunification deal as the Mediterranean island prepares to join the European Union.

Annan, who arrived in Cyprus yesterday after successive visits to Greece and Turkey, is consulting with both sides on a revised version of his draft peace plan -- the third to date -- which he is presenting on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

Both Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders expressed reservations about the two previous versions submitted by the UN in November and December.

Upon his arrival on the island's Greek Cypriot side, Annan yesterday expressed hope that the latest draft would satisfy both communities, which he said have a "rendezvous with destiny." "I have come to Cyprus to tell you that the entire international community is hoping and praying that a Cyprus settlement -- so long delayed -- is at last at hand. I believe very strongly that the offer on the table is fair and balanced and that a settlement would bring great benefits to both sides," Annan said.

Annan yesterday met separately with Greek Cypriot President-elect Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish Cypriot President Rauf Denktash in the island's divided capital, Nicosia. He also held talks with outgoing Greek Cypriot leader Glafcos Clerides, who was defeated in presidential elections on 16 February.

Joint talks took place today at the UN-controlled Nicosia airport, but the meeting ended abruptly after only 45 minutes, to the surprise of observers, who had expected talks to continue throughout the day. Negotiations are expected to resume tomorrow morning.

Addressing reporters after today's meeting, Papadopoulos said talks focused on "procedural matters" and that the substance of the 450-page UN blueprint would be discussed later.

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

Despite the Turkish occupation, the administration of Southern Cyprus applied for European Union membership in 1990 on behalf of the whole island. At an enlargement summit held last December in Copenhagen, the EU invited Cyprus to join next year, along with nine Central and Eastern European countries.

Failure to reach a reunification deal would leave the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) out of the EU's jurisdiction and would be the same as recognizing its legal existence. Created in 1983, the TRNC is recognized only by Turkey.

The UN had set a 28 February deadline for a peace deal to give both sides time to conduct separate referenda on 30 March. That, in turn, would clear the way for a united island to sign an EU accession treaty in mid-April.

But Denktash yesterday made it clear a deal will not be secured by the deadline. "The timetable -- the 28th of this month, [that is] in two days' time -- is unrealistic. Papadopoulos says so. Clerides used to say so. And everybody realizes that that timetable cannot be kept," Denktash said.

Annan has said that he could extend the initial deadline by a maximum of one week to allow rival Cypriot communities to agree on his new blueprint. But in Athens yesterday he made it clear that any further postponement would amount to a divided island entering the EU.

Addressing reporters after today's talks, Denktash said Annan expects leaders to give a final answer on the revised UN blueprint by the end of next week. "The [UN] secretary-general said that this is already the second modified version and that [the UN] will achieve nothing if they agree to every single [proposal] the two sides [make]. Therefore, he says both sides should strike a compromise so that a referendum can take place on March 30. He wants to know whether we are ready to endorse [his] plan and wants us to make a decision within the next 10 days," Denktash said.

Details of the latest UN blueprint have not been officially published, but reports say the document includes new territorial adjustments.

Annan's draft envisages the creation of a decentralized single-state, two-community federation with some common institutions.

The first blueprint called for a territorial distribution that would have reduced the size of the Turkish-held part of the island to 28.6 percent from the current 36.2 percent. It also proposed the voluntary return of nearly half of the 160,000 Greek Cypriots who fled Northern Cyprus 29 years ago.

The latest draft reportedly reduces the area of the island's Turkish-held part to 28.2 percent and proposes that a greater number of displaced Greek Cypriots be allowed to return to their former homes. Also, to balance the expected relocation of up to 40,000 Turkish Cypriots, the new blueprint says the number of Greek Cypriots allowed to live in the Turkish-held part of the island should not exceed 21 percent.

Addressing a delegation of Turkish Cypriot villagers before meeting Annan and Greek Cypriot leaders today, Denktash insisted that he will not sign the UN plan "as it is," Turkey's Anadolu news agency reported. The TRNC leader also said the planned relocation of tens of thousands of Turkish Cypriots is his main concern and cautioned against the creation of a "second Palestine" on the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea.

The Greek Cypriot side has not yet signaled that it is ready to fully endorse the revised UN plan.

In an interview with a state-owned Cypriot radio station yesterday, Southern Cyprus's foreign minister, Ioannis Kasoulides, said that accepting Annan's new proposals would require what he called "painful concessions" on the part of the Greek administration. In comments made that same day, Papadopoulos -- who is expected to be sworn in in the coming days -- said he is ready to be "accommodating," provided the north demonstrates equal goodwill.

Meanwhile, Denktash remains under strong pressure at home to strike a deal with the Greek Cypriot leadership. Organizers of a pro-peace rally that drew tens of thousands of Turkish Cypriots to demand Denktash's departure last month staged a new protest today in Lefkosa, as the Turkish-held part of Nicosia is known.

Police said some 70,000 people, one-third of the island's Turkish population, took to the streets of the divided capital.

In addition to 85,000 Cypriot-born Turks, the TRNC is home to some 35,000 Turkish soldiers and more than 100,000 Anatolian settlers who were brought in after 1974.