NEWS

Door open to Turk Cypriots, EU official says

NICOSIA (AFP) – European Union Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said yesterday that EU-hostile, Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash still has a chance to ensure his community enjoys the benefits of European membership in 2004. Verheugen is on a two-day visit to Nicosia to gain support for an EU goodwill package of 12 million euros and a series of measures to lift trade restrictions on Denktash’s breakaway state in northern Cyprus as part of efforts to end Cyprus’s division before it joins the EU in May next year. Denktash is opposed to any EU aid package, or export trade deal, for his self-styled republic if it needs the authorization of the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot government. «For the Turkish Cypriots this morning, the message is that the door is still open,» Verheugen told reporters after meeting Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos. He said the EU «will do everything to make it possible that the door is used.» But he added that it was now up to the Turkish side to get the ball rolling again. «It’s now a decision of Mr Denktash and his people and his friends in Ankara to use the window of opportunity,» he said. During his stay, Verheugen must attempt to resolve the complexities on the ground of brokering a deal that will allow the isolated Turkish-occupied half of the island, recognized only by Ankara, to export Turkish-Cypriot goods to the European market. Greek Cypriots support the EU aid package but are against any export deal if it involves the use of ports in the Turkish-occupied north of the island, which Denktash has insisted upon. Verheugen underlined the EU’s position that it will admit only the Greek-Cypriot south if a settlement is not reached in time. The EU commissioner said if there is no political solution, Turkish Cypriots would suffer as a consequence. Moreover, the prospect of a divided island entering the EU threatens to heighten tensions between traditional foes Greece and Turkey, and spoil Ankara’s EU membership hopes, as more than 30,000 Turkish troops would be occupying part of a member state. The Turkish Cypriots have taken no role in the accession negotiations between the EU and Cyprus. Verheugen was to hold a round-table discussion with Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot businessmen and unions later yesterday before his scheduled meeting with Denktash in the north today.