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De Soto ready to roll sleeves up to reach Cyprus settlement
2004-02-17 18:06:30

Larnaca, Feb 17 (CNA) - The UN Secretary General's Special Adviser on Cyprus Alvaro de Soto arrived in Cyprus tonight ready to roll his sleeves up and help the two sides on the island reach an agreement that will be put to simultaneous referenda and allow a reunited Cyprus to join the European Union in May.

Speaking on arrival at Larnaca Airport, in view of the resumption of stalled peace talks on February 19, de Soto said he was indeed optimistic that a viable and functional settlement would emerge, noting that ''we are either there or very close to it already''.

He added he would ''try to help the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots to finally come to terms on a text which would go to referenda and which would bring about a reunified Cyprus at last''.

''That is what I have come here to do, roll up my sleeves. There is a lot of work to do. It is not possible to underestimate the amount of work that there is to do and there is however a strong political determination that has been shown by the parties as well as by Greece and Turkey as evident in the agreement reached early on Friday of last week'' in New York, he said.

He expressed hope that ''in the coming weeks all will show the capacity to work and the continued political courage, vision and spirit of compromise that will be required in order to match the political determination already shown''.

Asked what would happen if one or the other side rejected a possible agreement in the referenda, de Soto said ''obviously the decision at referendum time will be up to the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots and that is one that they will have to take, based on their consciences''.

He added that the text of the agreement that would emerge ''will be a very complex and voluminous one''.

The UN official said that ''luckily, no matter what changes may emerge from the process that is coming forward, it is largely well-known and has been known for a year, so there are not likely to be great surprises''.

''So what we are hoping for is that since it is going to be necessarily a compromise, and compromises usually don't have many fans or enthusiasts, that the leaders will continue to participate in this exercise, will rise up to their responsibility thus helping to explain how a compromise is necessary and indeed unavoidable in order to reach a settlement on Cyprus'', he added.

Asked if he was optimistic that a viable and functional settlement would emerge, de Soto said, ''I am indeed. I believe that we are either there or very close to it already in the plan that was submitted by the Secretary General''.

''What we have is a settlement that indeed can work. It is of course improvable, it can be improved. It can work and it is an honourable solution as well'', he said.

Replying to other questions, de Soto said ''the Secretary General has gone out of his way this time around to make clear that if the two sides want changes we will be looking very carefully at them and we will be there to lend our assistance, helping to build bridges and helping to create trade-offs and we will look for all opportunities to do so''.

Asked if the Secretary General would fill in the gaps or would propose new ideas if the two sides could not reach an agreement, de Soto said ''I would rather not get into that simply because I have the hope still that it will be possible firstly for them to agree to whatever changes they want to make and also to complete the text, leaving no blanks without any assistance from us, except of course from our presence''.

Replying to questions on sovereignty, de Soto said ''the question of sovereignty is dealt with in a manner that should not create difficulties within the plan submitted by the Secretary General''.

Invited to comment on the role of the EU, de Soto said ''there is no role provided for the EU or the European Commission in the talks themselves''. He added that the European Commission was ''providing us with very valuable assistance''.

The Peruvian diplomat also expressed hope that the agreement to emerge would ''pass the referendum'', noting however that ''it is up to the people''.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third. Last week, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan held long talks in New York with President Papadopoulos and Denktash. The outcome of the talks was an agreement to resume stalled peace negotiations this week in Nicosia, with a view to reuniting the island before it accedes to the EU in May.

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