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Media Watch 2004

01 April 2004
Source: Guardian
Author:
Comment: The following leader article appeared in the Guardian of London on 1 April 2004.
Long division
"It's like being raped, and having to pay the rapist compensation"

It is Kofi Annan's fourth revision. It runs to 220 pages of text and 9,000 pages of annexes. Yet even this weighty peace plan cannot stop the pendulum of perceived advantage swinging back and forth over the divided island of Cyprus. A solution suits all sides - in principle. Turkey wants a date for the start of entry talks to the EU and Greece wants to usher its neighbour in. Both seek an end to a conflict that has brought them close to war three times since 1974. Turkish Cypriots seek an end to the trade embargo that has impoverished them, while Greek Cypriot refugees want their homes and land back, or compensation for them, and over 35,000 Turkish army troops out. But in practice, as one official at the talks in Switzerland said, one side is going to end up with a five course meal with champagne and the other with a sandwich and a cup of coffee.

Ominously, the latest version of the UN plan was received with jubilation in Turkey and with gloom in Greece. Greek Cypriots lost 37% of the island to the Turkish Cypriots who account for 18% of its population. Under the latest draft, the proportion of Greek Cypriot refugees allowed to return to the north will be reduced from 21% of the Turkish Cypriot population to 18%. Over 80,000 Turks who settled on the island after the 1974 invasion will also stay. The Turkish Cypriots had sought a permanent derogation from EU law guaranteeing freedom of movement and the right to buy property. That derogation could now be scrapped after 20 years, but the Greek Cypriots still claim that fundamental grievances stemming from the land grab in 1974 have not been addressed. Compensation claims for denial of access to property originally addressed to Turkey will now be paid by the new Cypriot government. One Greek Cypriot MP said: "It's like being raped, and having to pay the rapist compensation."

The Cyprus clock is ticking. If neither side can agree, Mr Annan himself will "fill in the gaps" and put the plan to a simultaneous vote on both sides of the island on April 20. But there are dangers in trying to bang heads together. The referendum could fail in the north if the rejectionist Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash keeps the settlers on his side. But it is more likely that the referendum will pass in the north and fail in the south. Then the richer part of the island, who will enter the EU anyway, will be seen to be barring entry to their poorer Turkish cousins. Greek Cypriots will be voting for the very partition they have campaigned against for 30 years. A split vote could sour relations between Turkey and the EU, and dump the problem of the trade embargo back into the laps of the EU. For Athens and Ankara it would be back to square one. This is a superannuated problem but it can still send political tremors throughout the region."