Denktash gloomy on Cyprus peace deal before seeing Annan

NICOSIA – Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash yesterday held out little hope for agreement on a UN peace plan for Cyprus that Secretary-General Kofi Annan is pressing on the two sides of the Mediterranean island. Denktash was to meet Annan later yesterday and newly elected Greek-Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos today for their first face-to-face talks on the peace blueprint since Papadopoulos won elections on February 16. But he warned in an interview with Reuters that the revised peace plan Annan had brought on his trip to the eastern Mediterranean stood little chance of being agreed to before tomorrow’s deadline. «The timetable of February 28, two days’ time, is unrealistic. Everybody realizes the timetable cannot be kept,» Denktash said. Annan has indicated the deadline could be extended by at most a week in order to encourage the compromise necessary to avoid a divided Cyprus joining the European Union in 2004. The government of Cyprus – which effectively means Greek Cypriots – is to sign an accession deal with the EU in April. European and UN diplomats want a unified island to sign, which means a peace deal must be agreed upon and ratified in referendums on both sides before the end of March. Denktash has long opposed the plan, saying the territory the Turkish Cypriots must hand over for a deal would create thousands of refugees and could spark renewed violence. «Shall we be able to correct it (the plan)? I don’t know. But if it is not corrected, how can anyone ask me to put my signature to a plan which will make half of my people refugees again?» he said. After long and fruitless UN-monitored bilateral negotiations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Annan will this week present revisions of his peace proposal to both sides in a last-ditch effort to kick-start talks.