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Media Watch 2004

19 February 2004
Source: Times
Comment: The following article appeared in the Times of London on 19 February 2004 by AFP in Nicosia.
Cypriot leaders end first day of 'constructive' talks
"The leaders of Cyprus's Greek and Turkish communities traded barbs today after a first round of talks on reunifying the divided island..."

The leaders of Cyprus's Greek and Turkish communities traded barbs today after a first round of talks on reunifying the divided island.

After two hours of talks, described as "constructive" by the UN, Tassos Papadopoulos, the Greek Cypriot President, and Rauf Denktash, the Turkish Cypriot leader, criticised each other's position but expressed willingness to continue with daily meetings.

The talks represent a last-ditch attempt to reunite the Mediterranean island, divided for 30 years, in time for Cyprus to join the European Union on May 1.

Mr Papadopoulos vowed to defend "the inalienable rights of Cypriot Hellenism" and said that most of Mr Denktash's proposals fell outside the framework of the UN's reunification plan.

Mr Denktash, who heads the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), said that the Greek Cypriots, buoyed by imminent membership of the EU, seemed unwilling to make concessions.

"What we saw in today's talks is that the Greek Cypriot side is relaxed... We feel that they, as an EU member, just want to take us in with only minor adaptations to [Kofi] Annan's plan," he said

Mr Denktash said that he had asked for a reduction in the number of Greek Cypriots allowed to return to the north of the island under the UN peace scheme, a rapid resolution of property issues and a continuation of Turkey's guarantorship of the island.

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

The leaders' first session came after a small, homemade bomb overnight damaged the home of TRNC prime minister Mehmet Ali Talat. There were no casualties from the blast, which Mr Talat said was an attempt to sabotage the talks.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey occupied its northern third in response to a Greek Cypriot coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece.

A settlement to the island's division has gained urgency with EU warnings that it will allow in only the internationally recognised Greek Cypriots in the south and shun the Turkish Cypriot north if Cyprus is not re-unified by May.

Such a prospect risks turning Turkey - which has kept about 30,000 troops on the island since 1974 - into an occupier of EU soil.

Both sides have agreed to allow Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, to fill in the blanks of an agreement if they are not able to resolve certain issues. That has raised hopes of a settlement. The final agreement will be put to a referendum on each side of the island on April 21.

The United States and the EU are closely watching the talks. We are now closer than ever to finding a solution," Guenter Verheugen, the EU Expansion Commissioner, said this week.

President Bush has pressed the need for a solution in his January talks with Tayyip Recep Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister."