Crunch time is looming for Cyprus's Greek and Turkish communities as a deadline set by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to agree on a reunification plan expires next week. Yet neither side has indicated so far that it is ready to reach a compromise.
Prague, 7 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- With only three days left before a crucial meeting with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, rival Cypriot leaders have still given no sign that they are willing to compromise on a draft peace plan that would allow a reunited island to join the European Union next year.
Talking to reporters in Ankara after consultations with Turkish leaders, the president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), Rauf Denktash, today reiterated his objections to Annan's peace proposals.
"We believe the plan that has been put on the table by Mr. Annan needs to be improved," Denktash said. "It is not complete. It has deficiencies. It has flaws and it lacks those principles that we believe could safeguard our future."
In comments made yesterday after talks in Athens, Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos also expressed reservations about Annan's proposals, saying he wanted to partially renegotiate the UN blueprint.
After both rival communities leaders missed an original 28 February deadline to agree on Annan's latest peace plan -- the third to date -- the UN chief gave them an additional 10 days to strike a compromise. The new deadline expires on 10 March.
Annan expects both Denktash and Papadopoulos in The Hague that day to tell him whether they agree on his proposal to submit the peace plan to separate and simultaneous referendums later this month. A "yes" vote would then leave just enough time for both leaders to strike a reunification deal before Cyprus signs an accession treaty with the EU on 16 April.
Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974 when neighboring Turkey invaded its northern one-third in response to an aborted coup backed by the military junta then in power in Greece.
Despite the Turkish occupation and the subsequent creation of the TRNC under Ankara's auspices, Cyprus's Greek administration applied fro EU membership in 1990 on behalf of the whole island. At a EU enlargement summit held last December in Copenhagen, Cyprus and nine other countries were invited to join in May 2004.
Failure to reach a reunification deal would leave the TRNC out of the EU's jurisdiction and, in essence, grant it de facto international recognition. It would also leave Turkey occupying part of a EU member state.
Ankara is the only foreign capital that recognizes the TRNC. It maintains an estimated 35,000 troops and 100,000 settlers there.
Details of the latest UN blueprint have yet to be published officially. 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.
The newest UN draft also proposes to reduce the area of the island's Turkish-held part to 28.2 percent -- compared to 28.6 percent in the previous versions -- down from a current 36.2 percent.
Annan's proposals also envisage the voluntary return of some 90,000 Greek Cypriots who fled northern Cyprus in the wake of Turkey's military intervention. At the same time, the blueprint says the number of Greek Cypriots allowed to live under Turkish administration should not exceed 21 percent.
In comments broadcast yesterday on Greek Cypriot state television, Annan's special envoy to the island, Alvaro de Soto, said it was unlikely changes could be brought to the UN blueprint before the 10 March deadline expires.
Echoing Annan's earlier remarks, the Peruvian diplomat also said Cyprus's rival communities were faced with a choice between the UN blueprint in its present form and "no plan at all for an unpredictable amount of time."
Annan said on 28 February that Cyprus was nearing "the end of the road," warning that missing the 10 March deadline would ruin decades-long, UN-sponsored efforts to reunify the island.
The UN hopes Turkey -- which is seeking entry into the EU -- would press Denktash to compromise on the peace plan.
Yet, Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer's spokesman and foreign policy adviser Tacan Ildem yesterday said Annan's blueprint needs changes: "In its current state, the Annan plan is far from meeting the fundamental expectations of the Turkish side. It is clear that to reach a just and lasting peace in Cyprus is possible only through an agreement that will be agreed by both sides."
In a declaration issued yesterday, Turkish lawmakers lent support to Denktash, saying any solution to the Cyprus dispute should be based "on equal status for both sides."
Also yesterday, the leader of Turkey's Adalet ve Kalkinma (Justice and Development) ruling party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said that Annan's latest blueprint includes "some negative elements" that need to be corrected.
Fortified by Ankara's support, Denktash today told supporters in the divided Cypriot capital, Nicosia, that he will go to The Hague on 10 March, but only to push for changes to the UN blueprint.