Cyprus reunification talks fail; Annan recalls U.N. mediator
Wednesday, March 12, 2003
NICOSIA, Cyprus -- U.N.-mediated talks to reunify divided Cyprus collapsed Tuesday, the latest failure in 29 years of attempts to reunify the Mediterranean island.
The talks stumbled over Turkish Cypriot insistence that their breakaway state win full recognition, and Greek Cypriot demands for the right of refugees to return to homes in northern Cyprus that they left 29 years ago.
The island has been split between Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot sections since Turkey invaded in 1974 in the wake of an abortive coup by supporters of union with Greece.
The breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north, about one-third of the island, is only recognized by Turkey, which maintains 40,000 troops there.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan used his personal influence during talks with leaders from both sides in The Hague, Netherlands.
Annan's plan envisioned the reunification of Cyprus as a single state with a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot sections linked through a weak central government.
Annan asked Greek Cypriot leaders Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash in two days of talks to agree to put his reunification plan to a vote in separate referendums in their communities.
Papadopoulos agreed to the referendum proposal, but Denktash rejected it. However, both leaders had objections to Annan's plan, which had been revised twice after consultations with the two sides.
Annan had warned both sides repeatedly that if they rejected the reunification plan and the referendums, it would be "the end of the road" of his intensive effort to reunify the island.
After the failure, Annan announced the withdrawal his special envoy to Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto, who had been conducting the talks between the two Cypriot leaders. Annan also said that de Soto's office in Nicosia would be closed.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher expressed disappointment at the failure and criticized Denktash for opposing a referendum.
"We find it very regrettable that Mr. Denktash has denied Turkish Cypriots the opportunity to determine their own future," Boucher said.
Annan also appeared to put the greater blame on Denktash, who has been criticized repeatedly in previous years by the U.N. Security Council for blocking tactics.
"Mr. Denktash said he was not prepared to put the plan to a referendum," Annan said. He said Denktash wanted the talks to begin "from a new starting point."
Papadopoulos blamed the collapse of the talks "on the insistence of Denktash to promote a settlement based on his dream for the creation two separate states."
"I am very disappointed by the failure," Papadopoulos said on his return to Cyprus after the negotiations.
Denktash appeared relieved that the Annan effort had collapsed.
"Without changes, this plan would turn Turkish Cypriots into prisoners for ever," he said.
"Since we have been able to get rid of the negotiations that have taken months, and even years, I hope we can now spend our time on the development of our people."
Annan had used Cyprus' impending entry into the European Union to press the two leaders to accept the plan so that the island could join the union as a united country.
If the plan had been approved by referendums, a united Cyprus could have signed the accession agreement with the European Union on April 16.
As the plan was not accepted, the whole of Cyprus will be accepted as a member of the EU, but EU laws and benefits will apply only to Greek Cypriots, who live on the southern side of the island.
Annan's plan provided for the return of half the 200,000 Greek Cypriot refugees to territory in the north now under Turkish occupation. The plan placed restrictions on the return of the remaining refugees and on their right to regain their property -- a feature of the plan that was bitterly rejected by many Greek Cypriots.