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Annan Seeks to Revive Cyprus Reunification Talks - 2004-02-05


U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has invited Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders to New York to revive talks on the reunification of Cyprus. Mr. Annan is hoping to arrange a referendum on the reunification issue within two months.

The secretary-general has written to Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders asking them to attend a February 10 meeting at U.N. headquarters. He is also inviting the prime ministers of Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom to join the talks.

The negotiations are aimed at a compromise solution that would end 30 years of division on Cyprus. Mr. Annan is determined to put a signed agreement to a referendum by April, in time for a united Cyprus to be admitted to the European Union May 1. EU officials say a failure to reunify the island would essentially restrict membership benefits to the southern part, which is controlled by Greek Cypriots.

Meeting the deadline would require that an agreement reached by late next month.

Mr. Annan's spokesman Stephan Dujarric says the secretary-general was encouraged by talks on Cyprus during his recent visit to Europe, and hopes to complete the negotiations quickly.

"In his letters, the secretary-general has appealed to the leaders to summon the political will needed to bring about this result in the short time available. He also set out what needs to be done for this to happen," he said.

One potential stumbling block, however, is the position of Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. Mr. Denktash rejected a U.N.-brokered settlement proposal last year.

Mr. Annan said Tuesday Mr. Denktash was the only principal to the dispute with whom he had not spoken, but that he was trying. A day later, however, spokesman Dujarric says there has been no change.

"He has not spoken directly with Mr. Denktash in the past 24 hours, but he has now communicated with him in writing," he said.

The Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Talat was quoted Thursday as saying he had accepted the conditions set by Secretary-General Annan for reviving the peace process. The prime minister is a strong advocate of settling the dispute. But it was not clear whether Mr. Denktash agrees. He was reported in consultation with Turkish leaders Thursday in Ankara.

The secretary-general's proposal calls on both sides to agree to a referendum on a final peace plan by April 21. If approved, the settlement would reunite the island, with Greek and Turkish federal regions linked through a weak central government.

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