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Media Watch 2004

14 February 2004
Source: The Times
Author: Michael Theodoulou
Comment: The following article appeared in the Times of London on 14 February 2004.
Breakthrough in last-ditch efforts to reunite Cyprus
"Without a settlement by May...Turkey, which has 35,000 troops in northern Cyprus, will be left occupying part of a new EU member..."

LAST-DITCH efforts to reunite Cyprus before it enters the European Union in May secured a big breakthrough yesterday when the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders agreed to United Nations ground rules for talks to secure a deal.

Intensive negotiations are to begin next week in Nicosia, Europe’s last divided capital, on the details of a comprehensive settlement plan submitted by Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, more than a year ago.

The leap forward came when Tassos Papadopoulos and Rauf Denktas, the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders, agreed to allow him to resolve differences in case of deadlock.

It was understood that he will do so only if Greece and Turkey fail to resolve any stalemate. The deal will be put to separate referendums on either side of the island’s divide on April 21.

“As a final resort, in the event of continuing and persistent deadlock, the parties have invited me to use my discretion to finalise the text to be submitted to the referenda on the basis of my plan,” Mr Annan said. The process is also being backed by European and American diplomatic muscle. James Ker-Lindsay, a political analyst in Nicosia, said: “This appears to be a major breakthrough because if they allow Annan to bridge the gaps then it would seem virtually a done deal.”

He added: “However, it could still fall down on the referendums. After all this is a problem that has gone on for three decades.”

Mr Papadopoulos also struck a note of caution. “There have been so many false hopes in the past, I would not like to make predictions. I hope it will be solved,” he said in New York, where both sides came under international pressure to agree on the way forward.

A settlement would boost Turkey’s hopes of joining the EU and greatly improve relations between the two Nato members.

The dynamics of EU expansion have introduced a new dimension and raised hopes that an historic settlement is at last near. Turkey, which hopes to get a date at the end of the year to begin its own EU accession talks, pressed Mr Denktas to return to the negotiating table. Talks collapsed last year when the octogenarian leader, to the dismay of many of his people, rejected Mr Annan’s plan and declared it “dead”.
Without a settlement by May, the EU will usher in a divided island, represented internationally by the Greek Cypriots. The hard-up Turkish Cypriots will be left out in the cold and Turkey, which has 35,000 troops in northern Cyprus, will be left occupying part of a new EU member that it does not recognise.

“It seems this is the closest we have ever got, because in recent months Turkey seems to have understood it needs a solution in Cyprus if it is to have any hope of joining the EU,” Dr Ker-Lindsay said.

UN officials believe that, without a rigid timetable, the talks risk dragging on like all previous negotiations since Turkey invaded northern Cyprus in 1974. The UN blueprint envisages re-uniting Cyprus under a loose federal system with broad autonomy for the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.

Britain, the former colonial master, would keep its highly strategic sovereign military bases, but offered last year to give up nearly half the 98 square miles (253 sq km) of territory they cover."