Leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities have failed to sign on to a United Nations plan for reunifying their divided island. Cyprus' two ethnic communities will be asked to vote on the U.N. plan in separate referendums on April 24, four days later than originally envisioned.
U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan had hoped to persuade the Greek and Turkish Cypriots to come up with their own agreement. But, when that failed, he did what he said he would do.
He told the leaders of the two communities that the people of Cyprus now would have the final say as to whether or not they wanted to end 30 years of division. He told the parties the time for negotiations and consultation is over. The time for decision and action has arrived. He said there had been too many missed opportunities in the past. And, urged both sides to seize this chance for peace.
"We have tried to accommodate the expressed concerns of both sides so as to create a win-win situation," he said. "I believe that we have succeeded. But, the time has come for you the leaders and for voters in both communities to assess what is before them as an overall package in the run-up to the referenda."
The Annan plan is 220-pages long, accompanied by some 9,000 pages of annexes. It calls for a loose confederation of the northern Turkish and southern Greek parts of the island. The name of the reunified island will be the United Cyprus Republic.
In concessions to the Turkish Cypriot community, the plan allows fewer Greek refugees to return to the homes they fled in the Turkish north when Turkey invaded the island in 1974. It also asks the Greek Cypriots to accept a permanent presence of Turkish troops on the island.
In return, the plan calls for the Turkish Cypriot side to agree to substantial cuts in the number of Turkish troops stationed on the island and to return some of its territory to Greek Cypriot control. It also allows 120,000 of the 180,000 Greek Cypriot refugees back to their homes under Greek Cypriot administration.
The Turkish side gave quick support to the plan and said it would hold the referendum as planned. The Turkish prime minister who attended the talks urged the parties to walk together on the road of peace.
The Greeks and Greek Cypriots were more cautious. The Greek prime minister said his side's efforts to improve the Annan plan did not work. Therefore, he added it now was up to the people of Cyprus to reach a decision.
U.S. secretary of state, Colin Powell, who was in contact with the negotiators in its final stages supported the plan. But, acknowledged that the outcome was a compromise in which no party got everything it sought.
The Turkish Cypriot community has a lot riding on the outcome of the referendum. If it is approved, then a united Cyprus will enter the European Union on May 1. If either side rejects the plan, then only the Greek Cypriot side will join.