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Annan Chairs Greek-Turkish Meeting on Cyprus - 2003-02-27

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan chaired a meeting of the rival Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders in Nicosia Thursday, hoping to rescue his reunification plan for the bitterly divided island.

Mr. Annan is into his second day of intensive negotiations with leaders from both sides of the Green Line that divides the Turkish north of Cyprus from the Greek south.

But the two sides seem more interested in engaging in bitter recriminations, as they have for decades, than in resolving their differences.

Mr. Annan has presented Greek Cypriot President-elect Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash with a third version of his plan to reunite the island, promising it is more equitable than previous drafts.

The outgoing Greek Cypriot President Glafkos Clerides also attended the meeting at the U.N.-controlled Nicosia airport.

The U.N. plan would create a federation on Cyprus, with a weak central government and significant autonomy for the Turkish and Greek sectors.

But after a 45 minute meeting Thursday, neither Mr. Papadopoulos, nor Mr. Denktash indicated that the latest plan would break the current deadlock. Mr. Denktash even described the revised deal as "trickery" and "sleight of hand." Mr. Annan insists the bickering must end soon, however. He has demanded that both sides give an indication by Friday of whether they can accept the broad outline of his plan to end almost three decades of division in Cyprus.

If those indications come, Mr. Annan has said, he is prepared to let a deadline to formally sign up to the deal - initially set for Friday - slide until March 10, when he hopes both sides will put pen to paper at a ceremony in New York.

The tight schedule has been enforced so that, if a deal is struck, a united Cyprus can finalize plans to join the European Union in April. If a deal is not reached, only the Greek Cypriot side of Cyprus will join.

One of the key points in dispute is the issue of refugees. Under Mr. Annan's plan, about 90,000 Greek Cypriots, who are refugees from the 1974 Turkish invasion of the north of the island, would be able to return to their former homes. Mr. Papadopoulos has said that that figure is not high enough, while Mr. Denktash claims the return of the Greek refugees would displace Turks in the north and create a new refugee crisis.

But those fears did not prevent tens of thousands of Turkish Cypriots from pouring onto the streets of northern Nicosia Thursday, demanding that Mr. Denktash compromise and agree to the deal.

For them, the attraction of EU membership and its economic benefits far outweigh any problems that Kofi Annan's U.N. plan might pose.