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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 February, 2004, 16:58 GMT
Another false dawn for Cyprus?
By Tabitha Morgan
BBC, Cyprus

Over the years Cypriots have got used to false dawns.

Rauf Denktash (left), Kofi Annan (centre) and Tassos Papadopoulos in New York
The Cypriot leaders have entered a one-way street
Successive visiting politicians and diplomats have repeatedly said their latest diplomatic initiative would be the one to lead, at last, to the island's reunification - only to see talks stall, deadlines missed and the political impasse continue.

It would be surprising if Cypriots were not just a little sceptical.

But now at last it really does seem as if a solution on Cyprus is within reach.

So what makes things different this time?

By agreeing to return to talks, both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders have, in effect, locked themselves into a process from which there can be only one outcome.

Three-step plan

The two leaders have now resumed negotiations on the UN's plan for reunification in Nicosia.

If, after a month of talks, they are unable to reach a deal, both have agreed that the island's "guarantor powers", Greece and Turkey, will step in to try to bridge the gap.

If this intervention is also unsuccessful, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is to be invited to "fill in the blanks" in the agreement, before putting it to separate referendums on each side of the island on 21 April.

Turkish Cypriots, who are voting between "remaining poorer or getting richer", in the words of one Turkish political commentator, are almost certain to vote in favour of re-unification.

Their unrecognised state has been subject to international trade embargos for decades and, as a result, their economy is moribund.

Turkish Cypriot girl under EU flag
Turkish Cypriots are expected to vote 'yes' in a referendum
Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Talat was voted into office in parliamentary elections last December largely on the strength of his promises to allow Turkish Cypriots a share in the prosperity that EU membership would bring.

Turkey also desperately needs to sort out the lingering Cyprus problem in order to smooth the way for the start of accession talks on its own EU candidacy.

If the Republic of Cyprus in the south goes ahead as scheduled and joins the union while the island remains divided, Turkey will find itself in an awkward position.

It will continue to have 30,000 troops occupying Cypriot territory, with Cyprus acquiring the power to veto the Turkish application - not a situation any potential candidate country would relish.

No warning

But on the Greek Cypriot side things may not be so straightforward.

In the decades since the island was partitioned in 1974, virtually every Greek Cypriot politician has stressed the urgent need for a just solution to the Cyprus problem - or "the national issue" as it is known here.

Cyprus

What few politicians were prepared to say was that any such solution would inevitably involve compromise and not all of the 180,000 Greek Cypriot refugees who were forced from their homes at the time of the Turkish invasion could expect to return to their former homes.

As a result, many Greek Cypriot refugees were shocked when they first saw that the UN plan did not allow for a wholesale reclamation of property, but envisaged the phased return of a proportion of the population over a period of years.

President Tassos Papadopoulos, voted into office on a promise to improve the terms of the UN plan, has already warned Greek Cypriots that some tough and painful decisions lie ahead.

Before that, there will be several weeks of tough talking.

With the UN ready to fill in any gaps that might remain, all eyes will be on the outcome of the referendum on 21 April.

After so many false starts, that event should conclusively seal the island's future.


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