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Tuesday, 12 November, 2002, 23:17 GMT
Analysis: Make or break for Cyprus
Greek Cypriot leader Glafcos Clerides (centre)
Southern Cyprus will join the EU with or without the north

The United Nations has put the two squabbling communities in Cyprus up against the wall by presenting them with a detailed peace plan and asking them to reach an outline agreement within a month.

The majority Greek Cypriots and minority Turkish Cypriots have been arguing for nearly 30 years about how to re-unite their island in the eastern Mediterranean.


Apocalyptic noises have been muted recently, and the warming of relations between Greece and Turkey has encouraged hopes that a solution can be found

Turkish troops occupied the northern third in 1974 in response to a Greek Cypriot coup backed by the then military regime in Athens.

Now the UN has seized the initiative at a crucial moment. At their summit in Copenhagen starting on 12 December, leaders of the European Union are due to approve the admission of Cyprus along with a group of eastern European states and Malta.

The fate of the UN plan will decide whether Cyprus joins the EU as a whole, or divided.

Threats

Failure would mean in reality that membership would apply only to the southern two thirds of the island under its internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government.

The self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Turkey, would remain outside the EU.

Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash
Turkish Cypriots want a confederation of states
In the past, Turkey has threatened to annex the Turkish Cypriot zone if this happens. In response, its ancient rival Greece - already a member of the EU - has threatened to block the whole next stage of enlargement if Cyprus is not admitted.

These apocalyptic noises have been muted recently. And the warming of relations between Greece and Turkey over the past few years has encouraged hopes that a solution can be found.

The situation is hard to predict, since a party led by former Islamists is about to take power in Ankara.

But its public stance is moderate, and the party leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has thrown his weight behind the latest effort to re-unify Cyprus.

Mr Erdogan said solving the Cyprus issue would not just accelerate the EU process - it would also be a concrete and useful step in overcoming many problems between Turkey and Greece.

Differences over Turkey

Turkey's influence over the Turkish Cypriots will be essential to any settlement.

But in return it will want European leaders to set a date for starting negotiations on its own EU membership.


After months of fruitless talks, the UN is trying again to use the looming EU deadline as a catalyst

So Cyprus is crucial to Turkey's relations with Europe, and to its political stance in the wider world.

The United States is pressing the EU to admit Turkey, already a member of Nato, in order to consolidate its strategic relationship with the West. Turkey will be vital to any military campaign against Iraq.

Britain thinks the same way, and both the British and Americans have contributed to the UN Cyprus plan.

But many in the EU remain doubtful about Turkish membership - last week former French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, who chairs the convention on Europe's future, said Turkey was not a European country.

On balance, though, there are various pressures in favour of a Cyprus settlement that the UN is trying to exploit.

After months of fruitless talks between the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, it is trying again to use the looming EU deadline as a catalyst.

Power structure

This time, in a change of tactic, the UN has presented its own comprehensive peace plan.

It is not quite "take it or leave it", but the idea is that changes should be relatively minor and agreed by both sides. It is not just a list of options.

The bulky document covers all aspects of the Cyprus dispute, including territorial adjustment between the two zones, compensation for dispossessed property owners, and security - the intention is that Cyprus will be demilitarised.

But as ever the crux of the problem is the structure of government and how the two communities will share power.

The Greek Cypriots have insisted on a single state, albeit on a federal model with only a few powers reserved for the centre.

The Turkish Cypriots have talked of a confederation of more or less independent states, demanding that the sovereignty of their own entity be recognised first.

The UN plan tries to get away from this entrenched language.

It avoids the terms federation or confederation. Instead it defines the new Cyprus as an indissoluble partnership, with a common state government and two equal component states.

Balancing act

The emphasis on equality is designed to appeal to the Turkish Cypriots.

On the other hand, the plan says that Cyprus will have a single sovereignty and international legal personality: that is one of the Greek Cypriots' bottom lines.

Women whose relatives disappeared
Remembering relatives who vanished after the Turkish invasion of 1974

The Greek Cypriots should also like the provision that the membership of the Presidential Council - in effect a collective head of state - will be proportional to population. They make up more than three-quarters of the population.

But they are thought to dislike the proposal for rotating the president and vice-president of the council every 10 months, so that neither community can hold the president's office for more than two consecutive terms.

The plan is a delicate balancing act that could easily come crashing down.

Both Greek and Turkish Cypriots will have to make painful compromises if agreement is to be reached.

The past history of this intractable dispute is discouraging. But the international context now is as promising as it is ever likely to be.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Greg Barrow
"Despite all the diplomatic efforts Cyprus has remained divided"
The BBC's Panos Polyzoidis
"Cyprus President Clerides called on his compatriots to view the plan as a comprehensive package"
UN special envoy to Cyprus Alvaro De Soto
"This is a rather long and complex document"

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12 Nov 02 | Europe
04 Oct 02 | Europe
26 Mar 02 | Europe
08 Jan 02 | Europe
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