Plan to unite Cyprus fails at polls

Turkish Cypriots back U.N. proposal, but Greek counterparts reject it

April 25, 2004|By Tom Hundley | Tom Hundley,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

NICOSIA, Cyprus - The latest effort to reunify this divided island became a historical footnote yesterday as Greek Cypriot voters turned down a U.N. plan proposed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

It mattered little that voters on the Turkish side said "yes." The plan required the approval of both sides to go forward.

According to official results, the Turkish Cypriots voted in favor of the plan by 64.9 percent to 35.1 percent. But the Greek side of the island voted resoundingly against reunification. With 96 percent of the vote counted, 76 percent had voted "no."

For the international community, the outcome is a political and diplomatic dog's breakfast. It means that a divided Cyprus, represented by the Greek Cypriot government, will become a full member of the expanded European Union next week, while the Turkish Cypriots are left behind.

EU officials are seething. They agreed to take in Cyprus with the understanding that the Greek Cypriot government would do all it could to reunify the island and then watched in horror as the Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos launched a vigorous campaign for a "no" vote.

Annan and others, including U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, warned Cypriots that they should not pass up this opportunity because there would not be another anytime soon. In addition to isolation within the EU, Cyprus also will forfeit about $400 million in promised U.S. aid.

But that made little impression on most Greek Cypriot voters.

"Maybe we will face some problems because of this, but I deeply believe there will be a second chance," said Andreas Georgiodes, a 54-year-old businessman in Nicosia.

He said he voted against the plan because he didn't trust the Turkish government in Ankara to hold up its end of the bargain.

"In the past, they signed agreements and they never respected their own signature. On the first day of this agreement, they would take everything that is theirs and give us nothing," he said.

George Tsikouris, 44, a merchant in the divided capital, also voted no.

"I don't feel safe with this plan," he said. "Give us a better plan with more security guarantees."

Cyprus was divided in 1974 after a failed coup by Greek Cypriots who wanted to join the island with Greece. Turkey responded with a military invasion that seized control of nearly 40 percent of the island and forced some 180,000 Greek Cypriots to flee their homes. About 50,000 Turkish Cypriots lost their homes on the Greek side. Since then, Cyprus has been sliced by a 100-mile Green Line patrolled by U.N. peacekeepers.

The internationally recognized Greek side has enjoyed a measure of prosperity while the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Turkey, has stagnated under heavy economic sanctions. The reunification plan drafted by Annan calls for a loose federation of the two sides in which each maintains a high level of autonomy under a limited central government.

Under terms of the plan, the Turkish side would relinquish about 7 percent of the land it now controls and allow some 120,000 Greek Cypriots to return to their homes on the Turkish side. Those not returning would receive compensation for lost property. Turkey agreed to substantially reduce its 38,000-man garrison on the island.

But Greek Cypriot hard-liners are insisting on a unitary state, the return of all property and the immediate withdrawal of all Turkish troops and the departure of some 80,000 Turkish "settlers" who came from the Turkish mainland after the 1974 partition.

The Greek Cypriot government will undoubtedly receive a chilly reception from the EU next week, but Cyprus is now in a position - at least in theory - to thwart Turkey's ambitions of joining the union. It would, however, face total diplomatic ostracism if it were seen to be the sole country blocking the Turks.

EU officials have promised that the Turkish Cypriots' "yes" vote would not go unrewarded, and it is expected that some economic sanctions will soon be lifted and that EU financial assistance may start flowing to the Turkish side of the island.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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