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Greek Prime Minister Dismisses Chances of Settlement in Cyprus Before UN Deadline - 2003-02-24


A U.N.-brokered deal to reunite the island of Cyprus appeared headed for failure Monday after the Greek prime minister dismissed chances of a settlement. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, currently visiting Turkey, said the United Nations may extend the current deadline for a settlement by one week. Greek and Turkish Cypriots only have four days left to sign up to a U.N. peace deal to reunite their island, or miss what has been called an "historic opportunity" to end almost three decades of division.

But with time running out on Monday, Greek Prime Minster Costas Simitis described the possibility of a successful deal as "almost non-existent."

He said disagreements between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots would not be ironed out by Friday.

His comments are a serious blow to the peace plan, which has been personally backed by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Mr. Annan is currently on a tour of Greece and Turkey to drum up support for the plan. It calls for an initial agreement to be signed by the end of February, before being ratified by separate referenda in the Turkish north and Greek south of the island by the end of March.

But Mr. Simitis, who was speaking after meeting the newly elected Greek Cypriot president, Tassos Papadopoulos, said that "The margins of success within the given time-frame are very small."

Mr. Papadopoulos was also pessimistic about the chances of a deal, describing his Turkish counterpart Rauf Denktash as "intransigent."

Meanwhile, Britain, colonial power in Cyprus until 1960, said that it would relinquish half the land it still owns there to locals, in an attempt to breathe new life into the peace process.

Britain has two big military bases in Cyprus, and has agreed to give up half its sovereign territory, about 50 square miles, if the peace deal is signed.

The U.N. deal is designed to allow a reunited Cyprus to join the European Union in 2004. If it does not succeed, only the Greek half will join, and Turkish Cypriots will be excluded.

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