NEWS

Euro MPs warn Turkey on Cyprus

STRASBOURG (Reuters) – Attempts by the European Commission to avert a fresh row with Turkey over Cyprus failed yesterday as the European Parliament issued a clear warning to Ankara. On Tuesday, enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen urged deputies to focus on supporting diplomatic efforts to reunite Cyprus before it joins the 15-nation bloc, rather than warning Turkey of the consequences if it thwarted those talks. But the Euro MPs disregarded Verheugen’s advice and adopted a report by former Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jacques Poos which warns Turkey that its own EU membership bid would be terminated if it annexed northern Cyprus when the EU admits the Republic of Cyprus as a member. The internationally-recognized Greek-Cypriot government of Cyprus is among the most advanced candidates in negotiations to join the EU, possibly as soon as 2004. Cyprus has been divided since Turkey invaded the north of the island in 1974 in response to a short-lived coup in Nicosia backed by Greece’s then-military rulers. The Turkish Foreign Ministry denied on Tuesday that Turkey had ever vowed to annex northern Cyprus and accused Poos of harboring a personal grudge against Ankara. The accusation against Poos was rejected yesterday by Euro MP Elmar Brok – chairman of the assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee – who said that Parliament would not tolerate attacks from Turkey. The EU and the United Nations are trying to persuade Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash to return to UN-brokered talks on a peace settlement for Cyprus, which he quit last year. Denktash has been demanding equal status with the Cypriot government and international recognition of his Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, which only Ankara recognizes. Verheugen told Parliament he hoped the proximity talks would resume soon. [Denktash, however, yesterday rejected UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s invitation to return to the talks.] Greece in recent years has become a hub for both migrants and refugees seeking a second chance in Europe. Scores of people cross the border by land and sea illegally, either inside ships or by walking through minefields. According to the Public Order Ministry, 6,653 people were granted refugee status last year, while between January and March of 2001, the ministry received 468 new requests.