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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 April, 2004, 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK
Divided Cyprus split over UN plan
By Tabitha Morgan
BBC, Nicosia

Everywhere you go in Cyprus the topic of conversation is the same.

Nothing in recent years has stirred up such passionate debate as the UN plan to reunite the island.

Turkish Cypriots cross into the buffer zone
EU membership would bring economic benefits to the Turkish side
That passion is likely to intensify in the weeks leading up to the referendum on 24 April.

To date, Greek Cypriot public opinion appears to be solidly against the reunification proposals.

In the capital Nicosia, Greek Cypriots expressed dismay - even anger - that the final version of the plan did not meet their demands.

Under the proposals, the number of Turkish troops on the island would be gradually reduced. But in a concession to Turkish Cypriot security fears, Turkey would be allowed to retain up to 650 soldiers.

Their continued presence is regarded by Greek Cypriots as wholly unacceptable.

For 24-year-old Maria, shopping at one of Nicosia's big supermarkets, the issue of Turkish troops alone was enough to convince her to reject the deal.

After 1 May I will be able to settle anywhere I like in Europe, but I won't have the right to return to the Turkish Cypriot state where I was born
Greek Cypriot refugee
"This plan rewards the Turkish invasion," she said. "We had to leave our homes and land, we lost our parents and grandparents and now the Turks get to stay."

Many Greek Cypriots believe that outside powers are trying to impose a plan which they find unacceptable in order to avoid the awkwardness of a divided Cyprus joining the EU on 1 May.

"Every time there was a new version of the plan it was worse than the previous one," said Lianna, an office receptionist in the capital. "Why is the world doing this to us?"

Under the terms of the UN plan, the majority of Greek Cypriot refugees - who fled their homes at the time of the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974 - would gradually be allowed to return over a number of years.

Second class

But, in an attempt to allay Turkish Cypriot fears of being overwhelmed by the prosperous Greek Cypriot majority, there would be restrictions on the numbers allowed to return to the north of the island.

In the view of Greek Cypriot refugee Orania this contravenes EU principles and makes Greek Cypriots second class citizens.

"After 1 May I will be able to settle anywhere I like in Europe, but I won't have the right to return to the Turkish Cypriot state where I was born," she said. "So why should I vote for it?"

In the north of the island the atmosphere is calmer. Even so, some are suspicious that the proposals do not contain sufficient security guarantees.

Retired diplomat Vedat says he will vote No in the referendum because he feels the plan has been assembled hastily without enough consideration of its implications.

Turkish Cypriot public opinion appears to be divided, but the indications are that a sizeable number would vote for the plan because of the economic benefits that EU membership would bring.

The economy of northern Cyprus has suffered from decades of international trade sanctions. Factory owner Hasip points out that "thousands of Turkish Cypriots cross to the south of the island each day to find work. We need a solution - without one our future is very bleak."

Cypriots themselves will be voting in separate referendums on whether or not to accept the plan. Until then they will be talking of nothing else.

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