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Annan sees historic opportunity for unified Cyprus
2004-02-09 18:01:08

by Apostolis Zoupaniotis

United Nations, Feb 9 (CNA) - UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said today that the people of Cyprus have an historic opportunity to unify their country and enter the European Union together with great economic and social benefits for them, noting that a unified Cyprus entering the EU will really help reduce tensions in the Aegean region, will improve relations all around in the region and it will also facilitate Turkey's entry into Europe.

Speaking on arrival at UN Headquarters, Annan referred to tomorrow's meeting in New York with Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, saying that he has made proposals to them to discuss, adding that ''we don't have much time if we are going to meet the deadline of 1 May'', when Cyprus will officially become an EU member.

''It means we will have to finish the negotiations by [the] end of March to be able to have the referendum in April. So we will discuss all this to see if the parties are prepared to engage and to sustain the effort for us to ensure that a united Cyprus enters the EU on the 1st of May'', he added.

The full text of Annan's press encounter on arrival at UN Headquarters is as follows:

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, on the subject of your talks tomorrow on Cyprus, just a couple of little things. One, sir can you give us a statement on what you hope to accomplish, what the best case scenario would be, whether these talks might continue in Cyprus in the region with Mr. [Alvaro] de Soto. And specifically, I'm reading from a report here, Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash wants the UN to drop its insistence of holding a referendum on the peace plan irrespective of the final agreement. He also wants a guarantee that the UN won't dictate how many troops Turkey can keep on Cyprus, if that proves a stumbling block. Would you be willing to compromise on that or address those big issues?

S-G: For reasons you can understand, I'm not going to go into all those questions in detail. These are issues we are going to be discussing at the table and let me say that I hope when the leaders come tomorrow, at least we can agree on the ground rules of how to proceed and agree on a work programme that will enable us to conclude our work on the 1st of May. I have made proposals to them for us to discuss when they come here, because, quite frankly, as I have said, we don't have much time if we are going to meet the deadline of 1 May. It means we will have to finish the negotiations by [the] end of March to be able to have the referendum in April. So we will discuss all this to see if the parties are prepared to engage and to sustain the effort for us to ensure that a united Cyprus enters the EU on the 1st of May.

Q: So would you consider extending them this week, after tomorrow, go back to Cyprus?

SG: I think that is the intention, unless there is an unforeseen development.

Q: What do you think that if both parties on the 21st of April say no to the referendum, to the foundation agreement. What will be the next steps, either both or one of the parties?

SG: Well, if the parties do not agree, and they say no to the plan or the basic agreement, then of course we are back to square one.

Q: Which is?

SG: We cannot get agreement.

Q: Would you again extend your good missions to these parties?

SG: I think they are coming here with a very clear understanding. My report to the Security Council stated the conditions very clearly - that I will engage when I sense a real political will on the part of the parties to seek settlement and to come to the table and sustain the effort until we do it. And we are going to have the first meeting tomorrow, so let me go through that first meeting and see what we decide. I think getting to the point of a referendum in six weeks from now is perhaps going too far ahead of the game.

Q: What is your message to the people of Cyprus and also to the leaders?

SG: I would say to the people of Cyprus that they have a historic opportunity to unify their country and enter the European Union together with great economic and social benefits for them. A unified Cyprus entering the European Union will really help reduce tensions in the Aegean region, it will improve relations all around in the region and it will also facilitate Turkey's entry into Europe. It is a win-win situation all around and I hope the people of Cyprus will press their leaders not to miss this opportunity.

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