UN envoy ’befuddled’

NICOSIA – The United Nations chief envoy on Cyprus says he is «befuddled» by Greek-Cypriot opposition to uniting with Turkish Cypriots but believes his peace plan still has a chance of acceptance by both sides. Alvaro de Soto’s moment of truth comes on Saturday, when around 600,000 Greek and Turkish Cypriots vote in separate referenda on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s power-sharing proposal to end the island’s division. «I do feel somewhat befuddled by the reaction (of Greek Cypriots),» de Soto told Reuters in an interview. “But I do get a sensation that things may be moving, that people are perhaps beginning to realize what they may stand to lose if they do not vote in favor.» Polls show the plan to reunite Cyprus as a federal state with large degrees of power-sharing will be rejected by a majority of Greek Cypriots who believe they are not getting enough territory. But polls also suggest the race is not over and could rest on the decision of many undecided voters. The UN has repeatedly warned that there is no fallback option to the deal. If either referendum fails, a divided island represented only by Greek Cypriots will enter the EU on May 1. De Soto, 61, who has spent five years on negotiations, refuses to speculate on whether he will remain in his post if the deal falls through. «I don’t see us rushing back very soon asking the sides to reconsider,» he said. De Soto brokered the peace which ended a decade-long civil war in El Salvador, has acted as a UN troubleshooter between India and Pakistan and was an envoy to Myanmar. But he says Cyprus has been his toughest task. «It is much more difficult. And it is much more difficult to get Security Council attention if the bullets are not flying or if there is no bloodshed,» he said. De Soto’s plan would allow a large number of displaced Greek Cypriots to return to their former homes and ease Turkish Cypriots out of international isolation. «We don’t believe in quick fixes. That is why the plan is as comprehensive as it is,» he said. De Soto cites proposed territorial surrenders by Turkish Cypriots, who would have to give back about 7 percent of Cyprus. He describes a complex map of «squiggly lines» from east to west, drawn to accommodate as many Greek Cypriots as possible and keep the impact on Turkish Cypriots – as many as 50,000 will have to move – to a minimum. «We are not drawing the straight lines Queen Victoria drew across Africa to give Kilimanjaro to her cousin Willie,» said de Soto, referring to the purported trade-off between the British sovereign and Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany. «We are talking about human beings… we wouldn’t have designed it in such a way if we didn’t care.»

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