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Annan Close to Setting Dates for Cyprus Talks - 2004-02-04


U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says he is close to announcing a date for a new round of talks on the reunification of Cyprus. Mr. Annan is pushing for a settlement of the Cyprus dispute by the end of March.

With Cyprus set to join the European Union May 1, Secretary-General Annan says talks on the island's reunification could be announced within days. "We don't have much time. If we are going to meet the first of May deadline, we should move fairly quickly. I intend to invite the parties fairly shortly and I think in the next day or so a date will be set," he said.

Mr. Annan has said he wants the issue settled by the end of March. He has spoken in the past few days with Turkish, Greek and Greek Cypriot leaders, and discussed Cyprus during his meeting Tuesday with President Bush at the White House.

He has not, however, spoken to Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, who is widely blamed for the failure of earlier talks on reunifying the island. "I have not heard directly from him yet. I have heard from the Turkish prime minister. I haven't heard directly from Mr. Denktash but I intend to get in touch with him," he said.

The previous round of Cyprus talks collapsed last March when Mr. Denktash rejected a U.N.-brokered settlement proposal. But with the island set for admission to the EU, settling the 30-year dispute has taken on a new urgency.

EU officials say a failure to reunify would essentially restrict membership benefits to the southern part of the island controlled by Greek Cypriots. They also warned that the Cyprus dispute could damage Turkey's chances of joining the EU.

Cyprus has been split along ethnic lines in 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the north of the island. Turkey is the only country that recognizes the Turkish Cypriot state led by Mr. Denktash, and maintains a military force there.

The U.N. settlement plan calls for reuniting the island, with Greek and Turkish Cypriot federal regions linked through a weak central government.

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