NEWS

More holidays for all if UN’s Cyprus peace plan is accepted

NICOSIA – Greek Cypriots want more land and the right to go home; Turkish Cypriots want a share of power and a place in the international community. The United States wants to satisfy key Muslim ally Turkey; the European Union wants stability on its new eastern border; the United Nations wants to get out of a trouble spot that has defied solution for 30 years. These are the issues facing Greek and Turkish Cypriots when they vote in separate referenda on Saturday on a plan to reunite the island after 30 years apart. A «yes» means a united island joins the EU on May 1. A «no» denies both more than $1 billion dollars in aid, land which former colonial power Britain is ready to give up from bases it holds, and what US Secretary of State Colin Powell calls a chance for peace that will not come again for decades. The 9,000-page plan gives Cyprus a new tricolor flag, an anthem you can only hum to – no one has been game enough to come up with words – and combined Christian and Muslim holidays that would give Cypriots more days off work than any other EU citizen. It proposes a power-sharing federal government system drawn on the constitution of Switzerland, linking two ethnic and autonomous states of Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Cyprus hosts one of the world’s longest-serving United Nations peacekeeping forces and three NATO armies. Ironically, if the peace deal is approved, the 1,200-strong peacekeeping force will swell to at least 5,000. The UN will oversee Turkish-Cypriot land handovers over a three-year period. Domestic armies will be disbanded and Greece and Turkey will scale down troops to below 1,000 each by 2018. Turkish Cypriots, who control about 36 percent of Cyprus, would relinquish up to 7 percent of land to Greek Cypriots in the northwest and the eastern coast. The handover would allow an estimated 120,000 Greek Cypriots back to their ancestral homes and property, out of an estimated 200,000 displaced by the 1974 Turkish invasion. About 50,000 Turkish Cypriots living in the area would have to leave. The new nation would be ruled by a nine-member presidential council of six Greek Cypriots and three Turkish Cypriots by rotation for a five-year term. The government would be responsible mainly for external affairs and relations with the EU. The US and Britain see a settlement as crucial to efforts to stabilize the eastern Mediterranean and open the way for NATO member Turkey to join the European Union. If a deal flounders, only the Greek-Cypriot part of Cyprus, seen as representing the whole island, will join the EU next month, complicating Turkey’s own hopes of joining.