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Media Watch 2004

20 February 2004
Source: Cyprus Weekly
Author: Andreas Hadjipapas
Comment: The following article appeared in the Cyprus Weekly of Nicosia on 20 February 2004.
'Goodwill' from all as talks get under way
"Greek Cypriots are insisting on freedom of movement and settlement, rights that are guaranteed by EU laws... Cyprus's entry as a split country could be a disaster for Turkey's EU bid. EU leaders have made it clear that the 35,000 Turkish soldiers in the north could be considered as occupying EU territory..."

GREEK Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders began talks in earnest yesterday under United Nations auspices in a last-ditch effort to reach agreement so that a united island joins the European Union on May 1.

The talks, which must be completed in five weeks, have been hailed as the best opportunity to reunify the island, divided since 1974.

Alvaro de Soto, the UN envoy handling the talks, said the first session, held at a UN conference centre in the abandoned Nicosia airport, went very well.

“It was a very constructive session with ample goodwill and a businesslike spirit from the two sides,” the Peruvian diplomat told newsmen.

The two leaders, Rauf Denktash and Tassos Papadopoulos, left separately after three hours, without making any immediate statement. But in comments later, the two men indicated how tough negotiations would be as they try to meet tight deadlines set by the UN in New York last week.

Papadopoulos said: “We presented our views to make the UN plan more compatible with EU laws for the benefit of both the Greek and Turkish Cypriots.”

But he said most issues raised for negotiation by the Turkish Cypriot side conflicted with the settlement blueprint prepared by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which forms the basis for the talks. “My opinion is that most of them are core issues and are outside the framework of the UN plan," Papadopoulos added.

Denktash said he was concerned about what impact reunification with the Greek Cypriots would have on his northern enclave’s economy.

“The transition periods must include measures to protect our economy from destruction from the stronger economy of the south, the 80-year-old TC leader said.

Other concerns included how Turkish Cypriot and EU law would mesh and how many of Turkey’s 35,000 troops on the island would stay.

“We want Turkish forces in Cyprus even after Turkey joins the EU, for psychological reasons,” he added.

“As a general rule”, the leaders and their aides will be meeting every day, de Soto said.

Technical committees from both sides will be meeting separately, again under UN auspices, to deal with such issues as the laws of the new United Cyprus Republic and the two constituent states, the treaties to come into force and economic matters.

The European Union made its presence felt on the very first day. Gunther Verheugen, the Enlargement Commissioner, arrived at the conference area as the first session finished and joined de Soto and the two leaders in a “social encounter.”

He assured them the EU would “support and facilitate” the UN effort and provide every technical and financial assistance, in order to make the process a success.
“Only 70 days are between now and Cyprus’ accession and as you know we want a united Cyprus to join the EU,” he remarked.

The EU wanted to help the Turkish Cypriot community start a “catch up process” and a team of EU experts will be on hand to offer technical assistance.

He said the EU was prepared to “accommodate a settlement, provided it does not violate the basic principles on which the EU is founded.”

The two sides are negotiating according to the UN plan that calls for two separate regions or constituent states, linked together by a weak central government. They are deeply divided on such issues as to how many Greek Cypriot refugees can return in the north, how much land will be ceded by the Turkish side and how many Turkish troops will remain in the north.

Greek Cypriots are insisting on freedom of movement and settlement, rights that are guaranteed by EU laws.

That is strongly opposed by Denktash, who fears that if large numbers of the estimated 200.000 Greek Cypriot refugees returned to their homes, it would change the character of the Turkish-controlled north.

“By making Greeks come and live with us you cannot maintain bizonality. We insisted that bizonality is strengthened,” Denktash said.

Under a timetable worked out by the UN, the talks will continue until March 22 and the two sides will try to agree on a number of changes to the UN blueprint presented last year by Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General.

If the two sides fail to reach agreement, Greece and Turkey will join the talks to try to iron out differences. If they also fail, Annan has the right to step in and fill in the blanks, so that a finalised text is put to referenda during April.

In his “talking points” paper, Denktash wants “strengthening of bizonality, in particular through the return of fewer Greek Cypriots” in the north.

He also says the jurisdiction and sovereignty of the new partnership state should “emanate equally from the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot peoples,” while “some restrictions” on freedom of movement should continue, and Turkey should maintain a military presence on the island as a guarantor power.

Papadopoulos, on the other hand in his suggestions, calls for changes that would ensure “functionality and workability” of the settlement. He suggests the presidential council should be expanded from six to nine members, that the constitutions of the constituent states be compatible with the acquis and international law, that there should be a fixed number of Turkish settlers and not a continuous flow. He also wants discussion of what the cost of a solution will be.

Hours before the talks started, a “sound bomb” shattered windows and damaged the main door of Mehmet Ali Talat's home in Kyrenia. “If this is a threat, it will not scare us. They are trying to obstruct communal peace on Cyprus. They will in no way be successful ” said Talat, who is a strong supporter of reunification efforts and entry to the EU.

Talat, 'Prime Minister' of the breakaway state, was in the Turkish Cypriot delegation, accompanying Denktash in the talks.

President Papadopoulos, Verheugen, US ambassador Michael Klosson and the British High Commission strongly condemned the bomb attack.

Meanwhile, although the majority of Greek Cypriot political parties, including communist Akel and rightwing Disy, have offered their backing to Papadopoulos’ stand, groups of Greek Cypriot refugees and some lawyers have started a campaign urging Greek Cypriots to vote against the Annan plan.

They argue that it deprives the people of basic human rights and could endanger the existence of the internationally recognised Cyprus Republic.

The United States and the European Union have put pressure on Turkey and Greece to press their ethnic communities on the island to reach a settlement before Cyprus joins the EU.

As the Associated Press notes, Cyprus's entry as a split country could be a disaster for Turkey's EU bid. EU leaders have made it clear that the 35,000 Turkish soldiers in the north could be considered as occupying EU territory after May 1.

For EU and Greek Cypriot leaders, a divided Cyprus after May 1 raises the possibility of an EU member that controls only two-thirds of its territory.

The last round of talks collapsed in March last year, when Denktash rejected the Annan plan.

He has changed his stance since then, under strong pressure from new Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

As the AP also notes, EU accession has become “increasingly popular” in northern Cyprus and this has put added pressure on Denktash."