Critical week for Cyprus’s future opens

After 30 years of division and innumerable efforts to end this, a crucial week begins for Cyprus. Tomorrow, representatives of the island’s two communities, plus Greek and Turkish representatives, will gather at the Swiss resort of Buergenstock, near Lucerne, for UN-mediated talks that will begin Wednesday. They will be joined Sunday by the prime ministers of Greece and Turkey, Costas Karamanlis and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan for Cyprus’s reunification is the basis of negotiations. According to the timetable agreed to in February, if these talks do not lead to agreement by March 29, Annan will fill in the blanks and put his proposal to referenda on the two sides on April 20. The aim is to have a reunified Cyprus join the European Union on May 1. Yesterday, over a thousand Greek Cypriots prayed for a solution at Cyprus’s Kykkos Monastery. But opinion polls suggest that neither community will vote for the plan unless it changes in ways that the other will not accept. Turkey’s foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, said Cyprus should be exempted from the EU’s «primary laws,» which allow freedom of movement and the right to own property throughout the EU. On the other hand, the Greek Cypriots and Greeks want the deal to be in line with the acquis communautaire without any exclusions. Gul echoed the hard line of Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, who has said he will not attend this week’s talks. Speaking after a meeting with Erdogan and the leader of Turkey’s military, he stressed that the two communities must be kept separate and Turkish settlers be allowed to stay. «Any agreement must be included in the EU’s primary law,» Gul said. «This is non-negotiable for us.» Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos replied, «As far as this ‘primary law’ is concerned, things are very clear from a legal perspective.» A poll conducted among 917 Turkish Cypriots in mid-March, published by the Turkish daily Milliyet, on Saturday found 46.3 percent would vote against the Annan plan if it were unchanged, 40.8 percent would support it and 10.5 percent were undecided. If the Turkish-Cypriot component state were made stronger and the two communities mingled less, the «yes» vote rose to 52.3 percent. Greek-Cypriot polls show a majority «no» vote.

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