REUTERS-November 12, 2002
Greek, Turkish Cypriots Keep Minds Open on UN Plan
NICOSIA (Reuters) - Greek and Turkish Cypriots kept open minds on Tuesday on an intricate U.N. peace plan seen as a last-ditch bid to agree on reunification of the island before decisions next month on its entry into the EU.
From the two sides of the divided Mediterranean island to their backers in Greece and Turkey, as well as former colonial power Britain, the clear message was that the plan deserved at least close study and would not be rejected out of hand.
The blueprint announced by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on Monday would reunite rival Greek and Turk communities under a Swiss-style devolved government with broad and effective power-sharing.
In 1963 an administration including both communities and with an equally complex system of government fell apart. Inter-communal violence culminated in a Turkish invasion in 1974 prompted by a coup engineered by Greece's military rulers of the time.
Since then, the communities have been firmly segregated, with U.N. peacekeepers policing their border. Travel and other communication is severely restricted. Diplomats fear failure to reach a compromise now could shut the door to a settlement for good and add to the tensions between NATO allies Greece and Turkey, as well as making it more unlikely that Ankara will join the EU.
Cyprus, with a population of about 750,000 and a land area smaller than the U.S. state of Connecticut, is split between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. The latter make up about 20 percent of the population and control about one-third of the island, its northern part. It is among 10 countries hoping to join the EU in the next expansion. Turkey has threatened to annex the north of the island if the EU admits a divided Cyprus, while Greece has threatened to veto EU expansion if Cyprus is not included.
According to diplomatic sources, Greek and Turkish Cypriots effectively have a deadline of December 12 to reach the bare outline of a peace deal before the EU decides to admit Cyprus -- divided or not -- in its next expansion, scheduled for 2004.
With ink barely dry on the plan, Greek Cypriots were loath to jump to conclusions on what they would or would not accept. Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides was due to confer with party leaders later in the day and travel to Athens on Saturday.
But already, provisions in the blueprint for rotating power between the two sides raised eyebrows among Greek Cypriots. "I can't think of any democracy in the world where 18 percent of the population get so much power," one Greek Cypriot journalist told Reuters.
While Greek Cypriot politicians sat on the fence, newspapers were unanimous in cautioning against rejection or acceptance of the plan without careful thought.
"Nobody, apart from a small clique of hardline morning radio show guests, could have expected a document cut to the measures of the Greek Cypriot side," the Cyprus Mail daily said.
"The U.N. objective is to broker a compromise deal that, by definition, has to take into account the interests of both sides to be a success," it said.
Under the terms of the blueprint, the Republic of Cyprus would be replaced with two "component states," one Turkish and the other Greek with their own constitutions, and a "common state" with a presidential council drawn from a two-chamber legislature.
There would be a six-member executive presidential council, with offices of the president and vice president rotating between a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot every 10 months. A summary of the plan obtained by Reuters leaves territorial adjustments vague.
Two Greek Cypriot newspapers reported on Tuesday that the United Nations was suggesting that some 50 percent of Greek Cypriots displaced by the conflict -- estimated at 162,000 people -- be allowed to return to their homes, under Greek Cypriot administration. 11/12/02 07:20 ET