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Further negotiation may not lead to progress, says top UN envoy
2003-03-09 09:23:58

by Maria Myles -- Nicosia, Mar 8 (CNA) -- There is little chance that the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot sides would make much progress towards a political settlement through further negotiations within the available timeframe, the UN Secretary General's Special Adviser on Cyprus Alvaro de Soto has said.

In an interview with CNA on the latest developments in the Cyprus question, de Soto also said that continuing the work of two ad hoc bicommunal committees is the only contingency plan to a ''yes?but'' reply by the two sides to a call by Kofi Annan to put to a referendum his peace proposal, pointing out that there is really no fallback and no more time if the parties say ''yes...but''.

Alvaro de Soto, who leaves today for The Hague in time for Monday's meeting between Annan and the leaders of the two communities here, warned about missing this current opportunity for a solution, saying that there would be ''a dark chasm of uncertainty'' if a divided, and not a reunited, Cyprus signs the Accession Treaty in mid April.

The UN, he pointed out, would have to review everything if this were to happen and fended off criticism of ''blackmailing'' tactics by the UN to achieve a settlement, saying that all the international organisation can do is alert people to the dangers of not seizing this opportunity.|

His comments come at a poignant time, as Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash prepare to leave for their rendezvous on Monday in The Hague with Kofi Annan, who has asked them to go there ready to say ''yes'' or ''no'' to his proposal to refer his peace plan for a comprehensive settlement to the people of Cyprus on March 30.

''If the answer, we hope, is yes, then there will be a lot of work to do on the island because if you see the plan, it makes it indispensable to accelerate and intensify the work of the technical committees with a view to completing it by 25 March and it will place certain number of responsibilities on the Secretary General and on my team to assist with whatever is left over,'' de Soto said.

Asked if there is a third option to the leaders apart from a yes or no reply, he said the Secretary General is asking for their agreement to a two-page paper committing themselves to submit the peace plan for approval to a referendum.

The Secretary General is expecting signatures by the leaders of the two communities and the three guarantor powers (Greece, Turkey and Britain), which are also sending representatives to The Hague, he added.

Invited to outline any UN contingency plans if the two leaders or one of them says ''yes...but'' to Annan's proposal, de Soto explained that the contingency is already provided in the plan.

''The plan says the work of the technical committees can continue until March 25 so as to complete its work, that is the only contingency that I can imagine, if either or both leaders say no to this, there is really no fallback because, as the Secretary General has explained several times, there is really no more time,'' he stressed.

On the prospects of making headway towards a settlement, in the absence of agreement between Greece and Turkey on security issues, Alvaro de Soto expressed regret for that Greece and Turkey were not able to make progress on the security aspect.

''The Secretary General had earlier prepared some suggestions as to the arrangements that Greece and Turkey might make regarding the stationing of contingents on the island, and we left a few blanks which were not addressed, so the Secretary General filled in those blanks, so the plan is complete and ready for approval, Greece and Turkey can agree to something different but time is running out,'' he explained.

Asked if the circumvention of the two leaders, by going directly to the people, is an admission of failure that so far this process has not yielded the results that the UN had expected, he replied ''the Secretary General believes that there is little likelihood of the two parties through further negotiation to make much more progress than what he has proposed in his submission in November and the two revisions since.''

The Secretary General, he said, ''doubts whether more tinkering or tampering with the text through negotiation or by the Secretary General will lead closer to a compromise that the two sides are fully satisfied with.''

''In view of that and of the time pressures involved, what the Secretary General is doing is asking the two leaders to accept that it is not possible within the available timeframe to make substantially more headway and therefore to having accepted this, then they (leaders) give it the people,'' de Soto told CNA.

He said that the UN is not bypassing the leaders, noting that the Secretary General cannot do that and he would not even propose it but instead he is asking that the leaders should submit it to referenda, not the UN.

''The Secretary General is saying this is as far as you are able go in your efforts, perhaps the time has come for you to give the people the opportunity to take the decision,'' he explained.

Replying to questions about the dangers of a non solution, he said he still subscribed to the view that there would be ''a dark chasm of uncertainty'' if a divided Cyprus signs Accession Treaty since the circumstances will change quite drastically.

''It is not clear that the incentives that now exist would remain for all concerned and for me uncertainty is a dark chasm, I do not know what is out there, whereas now I know and I think we can safely predict that all would benefit in a balanced way from a settlement, I do not know if that would be possible afterwards,'' he said.

Invited to comment on remarks by the Secretary General which some political observers have described as ''ominous warnings or even blackmail'' that we are at the end of the road if the Cypriots reject his peace proposal in a referendum, de Soto said that ''essentially the side that says no would be closing the opportunity off indefinitely.''

''We are talking about the end of the road in intensive efforts that the UN has carried out over the last 38 to 40 months, we would have to review everything,'' he explained.

He said all the UN can do is simply alert to the dangers that exist, and dismissed suggestions that blackmail tactics are being used.

''Blackmail implies that the Secretary General is using some sort of force, for me blackmail is when one holds your child hostage or has a gun to your head, we neither do, nor can do any of those things, what we can do is alert people to the dangers of not seizing this opportunity, if people describe that as blackmail, I suggest they go to their dictionaries and consult the meaning of the word again,'' he added.

Asked if he and his team of 12 experts would pack and go if the plan is rejected should it be put to separate simultaneous referenda, the UN diplomat said this set up that has been in place for more than a year will have to be reviewed.

He said it would be very hard for the Secretary General to launch an operation like the one that has been in place for the past year, with 12 people working in his team.

''Never this kind of resources has been devoted to this effort,'' he stressed.

On the role of the Secretary General as arbitrator between the two sides, Alvaro de Soto said that there are very few areas where the Secretary General is proposing, for lack of any better alternative, that he might make suggestions.

In the second revision of his peace plan, he is proposing a calendar for accelerated adoption of certain key laws that might not have been completed by the time of the referenda, failing which it would not be the Secretary General that prepares them but rather the Supreme Court with a precise dateline, de Soto explained.

''We are very sensitive to the impression that might be created of the UN interfering in matters that are essentially of the domestic jurisdiction of the Cypriots, we do not aspire to do that,'' he added.

Replying to questions about the benefits each side would reap from the proposed UN plan, he said the sooner the leaders use the opportunity to explain it and hopefully support it, the better it would be, so that the people can see for themselves what they are getting out of it.

He referred to certain obvious things that in his opinion people would benefit from, such as a governance system that ensures, in comparison with any previous plans, ''the most harmonious possible working while at the same time ensures that the numerically smaller grouping is not overwhelmed.''

On territory there would substantial returns that would allow large numbers of Greek Cypriots to return to their homes while dislocating the smallest possible number of Turkish Cypriots and providing for assistance so they can move willingly, he said.

On property there is ample protection of human rights of all concerned, he added.

On security, Alvaro de Soto explained that the guarantee system of 1960 remains in place and in some areas is extended to encompass the constituent states which are a new feature of the system while at the same time providing for a long term UN presence throughout the country.

''The Secretary General feels it is a fair and balanced compromise and we hope people see it that way as well and realise that obviously the dreams of both sides are not fully realised not by a long stretch, it is simply not possible to fulfil the dreams of both sides and also reach a compromise,'' de Soto noted.

Alvaro de Soto concluded his interview with CNA by expressing the hope that ''the sides will also understand that the opportunity that opened in the late '90s is now drawing to a close, if a divided Cyprus signs the Treaty of Accession it will bring about a drastic change in the conditions that now exist and make it very difficult to predict whether it would be possible to bring about a compromise of the kind that is embodied in the Secretary General's plan.''

CNA/MM/RG/2003
ENDS, CYPRUS NEWS AGENCY

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