UN chief must win over skeptical Greek Cypriots

Nicosia – UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who arrived in Nicosia yesterday, was expected to try to convince skeptical Greek Cypriots that his reunification plan will end the conflicts of the past and offer lasting prosperity and security to the divided island. Annan’s visit was also expected to provide a stern test for the Greek-Cypriot leadership, under pressure to make some tough and unpopular choices to end 29 years of division. «The Greek Cypriots must be given credit for keeping the process moving but the real test will come when they are confronted with a solution that Turkey has said yes to,» a diplomatic source told AFP. Observers argue that the Greek Cypriots have avoided making the hard choices by allowing Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash to play spoiler, giving them the upper hand. But while banking on Denktash’s intransigence to buy more time, the Greek Cypriots will need to bite the bullet when Annan lands here to clinch a landmark Cyprus settlement by tomorrow. A power struggle in Ankara between the pro-Europe ruling party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the more conservative generals, who back Denktash’s hardline stance, arguably paved the way for the EU to accept a divided island into the 2004 enlargement process. «The moment of truth will come if Turkey can bypass Denktash and say yes to a solution based on the UN plan,» said the diplomatic source. While tens of thousands of Turkish Cypriots have taken to the streets to chant for peace and a united Cyprus joining Europe, Greek Cypriots have remained silent and suspicious about what the UN blueprint means to them. «Now Greek Cypriots have some kind of stability, freedom and are prosperous, so they don’t want to get less than they already have,» political analyst Nikos Peristianis told AFP. «On the other side, the Turkish Cypriots are less free and face economic hardship. The plan is better than what they have, which accounts for the different reactions,» he said. A major stumbling block in selling a solution to Greek Cypriots is the sheer complexity of the power-sharing arrangements in the UN blueprint, plus the fact that Turkish troops will remain on the island and not all 200,000 refugees displaced in 1974 would get to return home. «The federation being proposed is the most difficult that anybody could ever find; there is no other model to compare it with. No wonder Greek Cypriots have cold feet,» said Peristianis. The reunification plan provides for a loose Swiss-based federation, allowing around 92,000 Greek Cypriots to return home, under the proviso that the Turkish side cede land to control 28.2 percent of the island from the 36.2 percent it does now. For three decades, the Greek-Cypriot leadership has demanded a settlement based on the right of all refugees to return and for all Turks who settled in the north illegally to be expelled. The reunification plan only meets these conditions halfway, which may not be far enough for Greek Cypriots to accept. «The situation is that the people say yes to a solution but look at the Annan plan and are scared because they think it’s too extreme,» said the analyst. The UN-imposed deadline for a deal tomorrow is designed to allow time for referendums on both sides of the island on March 30. This in turn would allow Cyprus to formally sign the EU accession treaty in mid-April as a single, reunified entity, ushering it into the bloc along with nine other new members next year. If that does not happen, then only the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot side of the island will join the EU.