NEWS

Longest night in Cyprus talks

Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos yesterday presented UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan with a four-page proposal for changes to Annan’s blueprint for Cyprus’s reunification. Representatives of the Turkish-Cypriot community also presented their proposals and Annan is to take the two documents into account before presenting his final proposal for Cyprus’s reunification later today. The proposal will then be put to referenda on both sides of Cyprus in the hope that the island’s 30-year division can end before it joins the EU on May 1. Intensive negotiations have been held over the past few days in the Swiss Alpine resort of Buergenstock between representatives of the two Cypriot communities, Greece and Turkey. Last night was expected to see the most intensive, UN-mediated bargaining. Annan presented the fourth draft of his plan to the four sides on Monday. This was seen by the Greek-Cypriot and Greek side as giving Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots almost all of what they demanded. The Greek side yesterday sought to change this, while the Turks and Turkish Cypriots tried to hold on to their gains. For Greece, the key to the negotiations concerned security guarantees (the number of troops on Cyprus) and whether the plan that Annan presents will exempt Cyprus from basic EU laws. «Our consistent aim is to make it more functional and that it is in line with the acquis communautaire and EU principles,» Greek government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said after Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Valinakis presented a memorandum to Annan’s special envoy, Alvaro de Soto. European Commissioner Guenter Verheugen, who is in charge of enlargement, has been attending the meetings in Switzerland and yesterday he told the Commission that «there are signs of rapprochement» at the talks. His spokesman, Jean-Christophe Filori, told reporters that the EU is ready to accommodate a deal that would not violate basic principles of the EU. The Turkish side, however, demands a permanent exemption on basic issues, such as the freedom of movement of people and the right to buy property. Last night’s negotiations were aimed at finding an acceptable compromise on this and other issues. Sources said that Annan was prepared to put a limit of 20 years on such an exemption regarding the right to hold property, changing this from his earlier proposal that the ban apply until Turkish Cypriots achieved a per capita income of 85 percent of Greek Cypriots’ (from the current 30 percent). Government spokesman Roussopoulos said that Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis had substantive talks with President Papadopoulos yesterday, as did the two countries’ delegations. He said that Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis also was in contact with Commissioner Verheugen and they discussed the Annan plan’s compatibility with EU principles. Cyprus’s National Council, which brings together Greek-Cypriot government officials and political party leaders, also placed special emphasis on whether exemptions from EU principles would be permanent. Former Cypriot President George Vassiliou, who was Cyprus’s negotiator for EU accession and is in Buergenstock, said that though Annan’s fourth proposal increased the plan’s functionality, «its provisions, as they are now, hardly satisfy us.» But he called on Greek Cypriots, especially the news media, not to be too pessimistic. «The very negative judgments may create a false impression,» he said.