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Cypriot Leaders Resume Reunification Talks - 2003-01-15

The leaders of Cyprus' Greek and Turkish communities have resumed United Nations-sponsored talks aimed at reunifying the island before it joins the European Union in 2004. The meeting came a day after tens of thousands of Turkish Cypriots called on their leader to approve the U.N. reunification plan or resign.

Greek Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash held their first meeting since U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented his reunification proposals in November. The two men promised to meet again on Friday.

U.N. officials want the two leaders to strike a deal by February 28. Mr. Denktash has expressed reservations about the plan, which would create a federation of two autonomous states linked by common institutions and speaking with one voice internationally.

What Mr. Denktash objects to in the U.N. plan is a stipulation calling on his Turkish Cypriot entity, which is recognized only by Turkey, to give up some territory. He also opposes a provision that would allow some Greek Cypriots to return to their homes in what is now the Turkish Cypriot part of the island.

Many of Mr. Denktash's fellow Turkish Cypriots disagree with their veteran leader. They want him to sign onto the deal despite his reservations. If he does not do so, the European Union will admit only the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government and leave Turkish Cypriots out of Europe.

If, on the other hand, a reunification accord is reached, Turkish Cypriots will also be able to enjoy the fruits of EU membership.

The U.N. is in a hurry to reach an agreement because Cyprus, like nine other countries that have been approved for membership in the EU, are due to sign an accession agreement with the bloc in April.

Mr. Annan, referring to Tuesday's demonstrations, says Mr. Denktash should listen to the voice of his people. But Mr. Denktash dismisses the protests and accuses the demonstrators of undermining his bargaining power.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded the island in response to a failed coup by Greek Cypriots seeking to unite Cyprus with Greece. Turkey still maintains more than 30,000 troops in the northern part of the island.