Missed opportunity

May 03, 2004

GREEK CYPRIOTS think they can get something for nothing. With their membership in the European Union assured, residents of the Greek side of divided Cyprus clearly had no incentive to support a U.N.-sponsored reunification plan to end a 30-year dispute with the Turkish Cypriots who share the island.

When Greece joined the EU on Saturday, the Greek side of the island became a member as well. And the Greek Cypriot government now represents all of the island in that organization.

But in an April 24 referendum on the peace plan, 76 percent of Greek Cypriots voted against it, unwisely casting their lot with the past and the status quo under the misguided notion that a better deal would be in the offing. But the U.N. peace envoy packed his bags; a better deal won't be in hand anytime soon.

FOR THE RECORD - An editorial Monday gave an incorrect date for the entry of Greece into the European Union. Greece joined the organization in 1981.

So now the thorny question remains as to how the Greek-dominated Republic of Cyprus can represent that which it doesn't control, namely the Turkish side of the island and its 200,000 citizens. It's a fiction and a farce.

U.N. peacekeepers patrol a border that splits Nicosia and divides the island; each side has its own president and history of enmity and pain. The U.N. plan would have reunited the island in a federation, returned some land on the Turkish side to Greek Cypriot owners and reduced the presence of Turkish troops on the island. But the Greek Cypriot president urged his citizens to vote against the plan, and reports from the island say supporters were kept from presenting their case on television.

If EU membership was the reason to end this ethnic divide, a united Cyprus should have been the entry requirement for all parties. Now, EU officials talk about rewarding Turkish Cypriots, who voted overwhelmingly in favor of the peace plan in the hope of ending their international isolation.

Lifting a 30-year-old economic embargo imposed when Turkish troops massed on the northern side of the island in response to a Greek-led coup would improve life there. It may also bring the needed investment to redevelop a tourist industry. The Turkish side boasts some of the most beautiful beaches on the island, but a tourism industry can't grow without a return of international flights to the Turkish side.

Giving the Turkish Cypriot government the $307.8 million intended for resettling the island surely would help finance economic development there, but it is only an interim measure. And the fact remains that both sides of this divided island would have benefited from a reunification plan embraced by only one of them.

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