NEWS

Annan presses hard on Cyprus

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday presented the leaders of the divided communities of Cyprus with a revised proposal for a comprehensive settlement and pressed them hard to answer him before they left for the EU summit in Copenhagen today, or to be prepared to continue negotiating there. The target, he said, was to allow «a reunited Cyprus to accede to the European Union.» The effort to meet the tight deadline was immediately rocked by Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash’s declaration that the plan was a rehash of the older one. His doctors said he would be entering a hospital in Turkey today and would not go to Copenhagen. Demonstrators on both sides of the Green Line in Nicosia staged rallies against Annan’s plan, with Greek-Cypriot protesters besieging the presidential palace in an effort to prevent President Glafcos Clerides and party leaders (who were discussing Annan’s revisions) from leaving for Copenhagen today. In a telephone address to some 10,000 Turkish-Cypriot protesters, Denktash egged them on. «This document is the old document. Our suspicions and concerns regarding our status, sovereignty and equality are continuing,» he said. «Nobody can uproot you from your homes and villages and make you immigrants again.» Annan appeared unfazed by Denktash’s new illness, which came about two months after the 78-year-old Turkish-Cypriot leader underwent heart surgery in New York. Annan «has no objection to dealing with anyone that Mr Denktash or his delegation might designate to negotiate on his behalf,» spokesman Fred Eckhard said. «From our point of view that’s not necessarily an obstacle… Anyone who is delegated by the Turkish-Cypriot side can sign as far as we are concerned.» he said. In letters to Clerides and Denktash that accompanied his revised plan, Annan stressed, «Cyprus has a rendezvous with history. It should not be missed.» Indicating the pressure of time to reach an agreement on the basis of his proposal before Cyprus is invited to accede to the EU later this week, he said that the time had come for a compromise and that further debate would be fruitless. «The primary purpose of the revised document is to bridge the remaining gaps, as reflected in the responses of both sides and in the intensive consultations that have taken place, so as to advance the prospects for a balanced and honorable agreement,» Annan wrote. «I believe this new version of the document, which replaces the November 11 document, represents the culmination and synthesis of the longstanding effort at negotiating a settlement. Given the variance between the standpoints of the two sides, it is difficult to see how it can be significantly improved with additional time, though refinements would of course be possible by negotiation and mutual agreement during the finalization period envisaged in the comprehensive settlement,» he said. The plan foresees agreement and separate referenda by the two Cypriot communities at the end of March. The US State Department deputy spokesman, Philip Reeker, said: «We believe the revised proposal should lead to rapid agreement… This is really a defining moment.» The UN, the EU and the United States have been making a coordinated effort to reach a deal on Cyprus before it is invited to join the EU. But, as Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen, whose country currently chairs the EU, said in Athens yesterday, a solution is not a precondition for Cyprus’s entry. EU foreign ministers, meeting late on Monday in Brussels, also indicated that Cyprus’s accession with nine other candidates would be unconditional. Ankara says that if it does not get a date in Copenhagen for the start of EU accession talks it will not help solve the Cyprus issue. EU countries appear to be preparing to give Turkey a date in 2005. US President George W. Bush yesterday pledged to help Turkey join the EU.