REUTERS-UN Recommends Swiss Model for Unified Cyprus
By Irwin Arieff
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations (news - web sites) issued a new Cyprus peace plan on Monday envisioning a unified island of Greek and Turkish Cypriots with a "common state" government encompassing two "component states," along the lines of Switzerland and its cantons.
The plan was delivered to the parties on Monday in hopes of spurring an agreement before a Dec. 12 European Union (news - web sites) summit at which Cyprus is expected to be invited into the bloc and Turkey's future membership will be discussed.
Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis hailed the plan as a new beginning for Cyprus.
"This is a very important day for Cyprus and Cypriots. For the first time in many years we have an official overall proposal for a settlement on Cyprus," Simitis told reporters.
The overall goal of the plan by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (news - web sites) was to create a relationship of "political equality" between the two sides of the divided island while respecting "the balance between Greece and Turkey" in a peaceful Eastern Mediterranean.
Cyprus, with a population of about 750,000 and a land area smaller than the U.S. state of Connecticut, has been divided since a Turkish invasion in 1974 after a Greek Cypriot coup engineered by the military then ruling Greece.
Turkish Cypriots, who make up about 20 percent of the population, control about one-third of the Mediterranean island.
Turkey has threatened to annex its part of the island if the EU admits a divided Cyprus, while Greece has threatened to veto EU expansion if Cyprus is not included.
The U.N. proposal was distributed on Monday to the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots, the main parties to the long-simmering dispute over the divided Mediterranean island. It was also sent to their backers, Greece and Turkey, as well as former colonial power Britain.
Greek Cypriot leader Glafcos Clerides received the plan in Nicosia from UN envoy Alvaro de Soto while his Turkish counterpart Rauf Denktash was given the document in New York where he is recovering from two rounds of heart surgery.
The U.N. plan, issued after nearly a year of failed U.N. talks in search of a peace plan for Cyprus, would create a six-member presidential council with a rotating presidency as the common state government's executive power.
The council's presidency and vice presidency would rotate every 10 months between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot sides, and its membership would be proportional to the two component states' population, although at least two of its members would have to come from each state.
A supreme court would be composed of nine judges, with three from each component state joined by three non-Cypriots, according to a copy of the plan obtained by Reuters.
The plan leaves blank, for now, the formula for any territorial adjustment between the divided island's Turkish and Greek Cypriot territories.
Annan, briefing the Security Council on his plan on Monday afternoon, said he hoped to get a reaction from both parties in "the next week" on whether they believe the blueprint can be a basis for negotiations.
Denktash told Turkish media the plan further proposes that actual negotiations should start in 30 days -- just before the EU summit set to discuss both Cyprus' admission and a date for Turkey to start talks about joining the EU.
"I think they realize that we have a limited opportunity as we move forward, and there is a unique timing in the sense and the possibility of getting a united Cyprus into the European Union, and I hope they will seize the opportunity," Annan told reporters.
A statement issued by a U.N. spokesman described the plan as "a document providing a basis for agreement on a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem."
The statement said Annan had asked the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders "not to take a formal public position on what he has submitted to them but instead to take some time to consider them."
Greek Cypriot leader Clerides said time was crucial.
"It is obvious that the plan will include provisions which satisfy us, but also those that will not be to our liking, but we have to judge it in its entirety," he said.