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Media Watch 2004

19 February 2004
Source: Times
Author: Michael Theodoulou
Comment: The following article appeared in the Times of London on 19 February 2004.
Cyprus: Mike Theodoulou on a shotgun wedding
"Greek Cypriots are insisting on freedom of movement and settlement, rights that are guaranteed by EU law..."

Last ditch talks, brokered by the United Nations, on the reunification of Cyprus began today. Mike Theodoulou, left, in Nicosia reports on the historic negotiations.

What does the UN deal call for in Cyprus?

Among other things, it says that the two sides will form a single federated country made up of two equal component states – one Greek Cypriot and one Turkish Cypriot.

Boundaries between the Greek and Turkish sides will be redrawn to give some territory back to the Greek Cypriots – around 8 per cent of the land that the Turkish Cypriots control.

Those Greek Cypriots unable to move back to their pre-1974 homes will be paid compensation and thousands of Turks who have moved to the island in the past 30 years will be allowed to stay in the new country.

The number of Turkish and Greek troops will be scaled back and eventually withdrawn.

Interestingly, Britain, a former colonial power on the island, will give up 45 per cent of the territory that it still holds for military bases.

What is the recent background to these talks?

Last March Rauf Denktash, the Turkish Cypriot leader, rejected a peace plan put forward by Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary-General, to the dismay of many of his own people. It would have ensured them entry into the European Union, as part of a unified country, along with the Greek Cypriots who have the island's only internationally recognised government.

Last month mainland Turkey seemed to make a strategic decision to make progress - because Ankara was hoping to get a date for starting negotiations on its own entry to the EU. The EU has warned Turkey that it has very little chance of entry while Cyprus is divided. It has 35,000 troops on the island. If Cyprus goes into the bloc Turkey will be occupying an EU state that it doesn't recognise.

Why are these  talks expected to succeed?

Cyprus has had many rounds of talks since 1974 and all have failed. The difference this time is that Kofi Annan got a commitment last week that if these talks become deadlocked, he can step in – he decides. They reluctantly agreed to give him that power.

What the United Nations is trying to do in four weeks is perform a shotgun wedding. Mr Annan only agreed to play matchmaker when both sides agreed to his terms and his tight timetable raises the chances of success.

What are the sticking points between Greek and Turkish Cypriots  so far?

Many of the points in the plan have been on the table for a long time. Mr Annan, who is brokering the deal, says that it is a middle-line plan already.

However, the devil is in the detail.

Mr Denktash still fears Greek Cypriot domination. He wants to ensure that Turkish Cypriots retain the utmost control of their own affairs.

Today, after the first day of talks ended, he said that he had asked for a reduction in the number of Greek Cypriots allowed to return to the Turkish northern third of the island.

Greek Cypriots are insisting on freedom of movement and settlement, rights that are guaranteed by EU law. Mr Denktash fears that if large numbers of the estimated 200,000 Greek Cypriot refugees returned, it would change the character of the Turkish north

What happens next?

Mr Denktash and Tassos Papadopoulos, the Greek Cypriot President, will negotiate until March 22, trying to gain improvements for their respective sides.

After that the two motherlands, Greece and Turkey, can step in for a week.

If there is still deadlock Mr Annan, as a last resort, will step in.

Then in April both sides will hold a referendum so that the people can vote on the deal.

What happens to Britons who hold property on the island?

Some property that Greek Cypriots were forced to give up in 1974 when Turkey took over the north has since been sold to Britons by Turkish Cypriots.

They may find, and this is already happening, that their ownership is contested by the original Greek Cypriot owners who hold the deeds.

They may be able to keep the property but may have to pay compensation."