Lobby for Cyprus is a non-party-political human rights organisation campaigning for a reunited Cyprus.
Print this page Print Bookmark and Share
Media Watch 2004

31 March 2004
Source: Reuters
Author: Karolos Grohmann and Zerin Elci
Comment: The following is a report of Reuters of 31 March 2004.
Annan Announces Referendum on Cyprus Plan
"The United States and Britain have key strategic interests in settling the issue. British bases there were important staging areas in the U.S.-led war on Iraq and house listening posts serving London and Washington that monitor communications through the Middle East and beyond."

BUERGENSTOCK, Switzerland (Reuters) - U.N. chief Kofi Annan announced on Wednesday he was putting a plan to end 30 years of Cyprus partition to an April 24 referendum on the island and appealed to Cypriots to approve it.

A U.S. official said Greece, Turkey and Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders had endorsed the plan at the end of a week of high-pressure talks at a Swiss Alpine resort. It raises the possibility of a united Cyprus entering the EU on May 1.

"This is a moment of high drama," Secretary General Annan told a news conference.

"There have been too many missed opportunities in the past. I urge you not to make this mistake again," he added, in comments directed at Turkish and Greek Cypriots who will take part in separate referendums.

Both sides must approve the plan, forming a loose union of two ethnically-based zones.

Tensions over Cyprus have brought NATO partners Greece and Turkey to the verge of war on at least two occasions. The island has been partitioned into a Turkish Cypriot north, recognized only by Ankara, and a Greek south since Turkish troops invaded 30 years ago in response to a coup by militant Greek Cypriots.

Reunification and the entry of a united Cyprus into the European Union would head off serious diplomatic problems for the EU, Greece and not least of all Turkey.

"The chance (for peace) is between this settlement or no settlement," Annan said. "This plan is fair and is designed to work."

Emotions run high on both sides of the "Green Line" that divides the island. Thousands died in communal bloodshed after independence from Britain in the 1960s. Many more were killed or lost their homes in the 1974 Turkish invasion in response to a militant Greek Cypriot coup aimed at union with Greece.

Differences had appeared to center on the future of Turkish and Greek forces on the island and whether a deal would live up to EU law on issues like freedom of movement and property. There will be debate on both sides and in Turkey and Greece about whether concessions made were too great.

The poorer Turkish Cypriot minority had been seeking and appeared to have found stronger reassurances on the number of Greeks who would be allowed to settle in their northern part of the island. Turkish nationalists appeal to fears of Turkish Cypriots being "swamped" and eventually driven from the island.

As the clock ticked to Annan's midnight deadline to end talks, there was a frantic rush of diplomacy by both Greeks and Turks, including 11th-hour appeals for help to Secretary of State Colin Powell by foreign ministers of both countries.

"What I have been saying to all the parties is this is a historic opportunity," Powell told a news conference. "This is the time for leaders to show flexibility, for leaders to be ready to compromise for the greater good of the Cypriot people."

The United States and Britain have key strategic interests in settling the issue. British bases there were important staging areas in the U.S.-led war on Iraq and house listening posts serving London and Washington that monitor communications through the Middle East and beyond.

About two-thirds of the east Mediterranean island's 800,000 population are Greek Cypriots who are far wealthier than Turkish Cypriots who control only one-third of the territory in the north and are only recognized as a state by Turkey."