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Media Watch 2004

22 February 2004
Source: Sunday Mail
Comment: The following article appeared in the Sunday Mail of Nicosia on 22 February 2004.
No one can afford not to read the Annan plan
"It is not complete gobbledygook... and the devil really is in the detail..."

TALKS have finally begun in what everyone – whether they like the process or not – agrees is the most significant, sustained effort to solve the Cyprus problem… ever.

Like it or loathe it, the Annan plan is the basis of those negotiations. Even Rauf Denktash, who has used every epithet under the sun to denigrate the plan, has this time reluctantly agreed not to stray from its basic parameters in the effort to find a mutually acceptable solution.

What’s more, the procedure is such that, even if either or both sides kick, scream, walk out or cry foul, it will be left (if arm-twisting from the mother countries also fails) to the UN Secretary-general to arbitrate on the contentious issues and put his final version of the plan to referendum.

So come what may, some time in April, Cypriots, Greek and Turkish, will go to the polls to vote yes or no on the final outcome. In the circumstances, it’s only natural that the public should have a chance to acquaint themselves with what it really means.

The Annan plan is almost 200 pages long. It is not complete gobbledygook, but it does need time for someone to read it, to go through the fine print, to reread the exact provisions on the most contentious issues – and the devil really is in the detail – to understand it, digest it, balance out the pros and cons. Most people don’t have that kind of time.

So it’s no surprise that NGOs and political parties have been bombarded with calls from members of the public asking what it means for them. People have woken up to the urgency of the situation, are beginning to realise they need to understand, to realise that they will be casting a vote come April, and that that vote will be the most important political act of their lives. Quite rightly, they don’t want to get it wrong.

So it’s cause for concern that the government is still only “thinking” about how to handle the public demand for information, leaving the information campaign to an NGO and minor pro-and anti-solution parties and activists. After all, the last version of the plan was submitted on February 26, 2003 – almost exactly a year ago. The government may (wishful thinking?) have taken Denktash’s word that the plan was dead and buried, but at least since the beginning of this year, it can have had no doubt that it is still very much alive.

Implicitly, its appraisal of the plan has so far been systematically negative. Yet, just as in New York, the government may come to realise that it has little choice but to back a compromise, not just because of the pressure under which it will come, but for the good of Cyprus. If it leaves it until then to explain the plan, it may be too late to reverse the negative trend."