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Media Watch 2004

16 February 2004
Source: The Times
Author: Michael Theodoulou
Comment: The following article appeared in the Times of London on 16 February 2004.
UN blueprint sets Cyprus on course to be reunited
"Greek Cypriots were more cautious. Many fear the UN plan is vague, unworkable and gives the Turkish side too much territory and influence. Key questions for the Greek Cypriots include the number of refugees to return, which villages and towns now under Turkish control will be ceded to them, and how many settlers from mainland Turkey will be allowed to stay."

GREEK and Turkish Cypriots have reacted with a mixture of delight, relief and scepticism to a breakthrough in New York last Friday that has created a “real chance” of reuniting their island before it joins the European Union in May.

For the first time, the two sides have agreed to a procedure that cannot collapse or grind to a halt.

“Both will board an express train without emergency exits — the doors and windows have been tightly sealed — calling at specific stations according to a fixed timetable,” the Cyprus Mail said yesterday.

Decisive negotiations begin in Nicosia this week on a UN blueprint that would reunite the island in a loose federation of two largely autonomous areas with a central government. A deal will involve territory handovers and large population shifts.

The breakthrough came when President Papadopoulos and Rauf Denktas, the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders respectively, agreed that Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, can rule on any disputes they cannot settle before a final deal goes to separate referendums in April.

Mr Annan said there was “now a real chance that before the first of May Cyprus will be reunited”. Thomas Weston, the US mediator, was even more emphatic: “It is almost certain now that there will be a settlement on the island of Cyprus.”

Relief was more apparent in sleepy northern Cyprus, where Turkish Cypriots feared that they had missed the chance of joining the EU with the more prosperous Greek Cypriots, who are guaranteed entry without a settlement.

After 30 years of international isolation and embargoes, incomes in the north are a quarter of those in the booming, internationally recognised Greek Cypriot south, and many Turkish Cypriots have left to seek jobs abroad.

Dozens of jubilant Turkish Cypriots took to the streets in convoys of cars over the weekend, blaring their horns and chanting: “Peace cannot be prevented in Cyprus.”

A settlement would see EU funds pour into northern Cyprus, whose beaches and historic sites would also become directly accessible to tourists, who currently must first touch down in mainland Turkey.

Greek Cypriots were more cautious. Many fear the UN plan is vague, unworkable and gives the Turkish side too much territory and influence. Key questions for the Greek Cypriots include the number of refugees to return, which villages and towns now under Turkish control will be ceded to them, and how many settlers from mainland Turkey will be allowed to stay.

“I’m very excited and really want a settlement even though I’m one of those who, under the Annan plan, won’t be able to return to my village in the north,” Maria Christou, a 45-year-old businesswoman, said.

The former British colony has effectively been partitioned since 1974 when Turkey invaded the north after a coup in Nicosia engineered by the military junta then ruling Greece. About 167,000 Greek Cypriots and 40,000 Turkish Cypriots were displaced on an island that had a population of just 622,000."