NEWS

Greek Cypriots irked by UK warning on split referenda

NICOSIA – Britain’s implicit warning on Cyprus’s status in the European Union if peace negotiations fail triggered a furious backlash yesterday from Greek Cypriots who said it encouraged Turkish «intransigence.» Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said on Wednesday during a visit to Turkey that a «no» vote by the Greek-Cypriot south and a «yes» vote by the Turkish Cypriots in next month’s referendum on a UN peace plan could harm the Greek Cypriots’ cause. Even without an agreement, the Greek Cypriots will enter the EU on May 1 and will be considered as the legal representative of the whole island, but Straw implied that, politically at least, they could not claim to speak for the Turkish-Cypriot north. Tassos Papadopoulos, the Greek-Cypriot leader who is internationally recognized as president of the island, insisted Cyprus’s status on entry into the EU was clear. «There is a decision of the European Union on the status of Cyprus after accession and I think that says it all,» he said. His spokesman, Kypros Chrysostomides, went a step further. «Statements of this kind just encourage intransigence from the side of (Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf) Denktash,» he said. Suggesting the British minister’s comments had touched a raw nerve, Cyprus radio quoted Foreign Minister George Iacovou as saying Straw should be more careful about what he says. Later, Iacovou said British Ambassador to Cyprus Lyn Parker affirmed to him that London stood by the EU’s terms for admitting Cyprus with or without a deal. Britain is the former colonial power on Cyprus and as one of the guarantor states of the island, along with Greece and Turkey, has a close interest in the peace process. It maintains two bases in southern Cyprus, covering about 3 percent of the island. It says it will give up half of it to help a land swap between the Greek and Turkish sides. The United Nations, which is overseeing the reunification talks, has declined to say what would happen if either side votes «no» in the April 21 referendum. EU diplomats say a Greek-Cypriot «no» and a Turkish-Cypriot «yes» could lead to a lifting of international economic sanctions against the north, but it is not clear whether the EU would extend diplomatic recognition to the Turkish Cypriots. Only Turkey recognizes their statelet. Cyprus has been split on ethnic lines since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the north after a brief Greek-Cypriot coup backed by the military junta then ruling Greece. The United Nations is trying to seal a deal on a complex power-sharing formula which would see a united Cyprus joining the EU on May 1. Turkish Cypriots and their mentor Turkey have long complained that the Greek-Cypriot side has little incentive to negotiate a deal as they are assured a place in the EU.