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Cyprus to Vote on UN Plan Saturday - 2004-04-23


Greek and Turkish Cypriot voters go to the polls Saturday to decide whether to accept a U.N. plan for the reunification of the divided island.

U.S. officials have made no secret of their support for the U.N. plan, and Secretary of State Colin Powell has urged both Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders to work for its acceptance.

The plan, brokered by U.N. Secretary-General Koffi Annan, calls for Turkish and Greek Cypriot states to be reunited within a loose federation. It includes the withdrawal of most Turkish troops from northern Cyprus and a settlement of outstanding land and property issues.

The plan has received mixed reviews on the ground. Opinion polls indicate most Turkish Cypriots will likely accept plan in Saturday's referendum, but most Greek Cypriots are likely to vote against it.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded the island in response to a coup in Nicosia backed by the military government then in power in Greece.

The U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus, Michael Klosson, says in spite of the compromises that had to be made, the U.N. plan is the best chance to reunite the island and move ahead. And, he says the international community is ready to help with its implementation, but only if both sides support it.

"Last week in Brussels there was a pre-donors' conference where the United States pledged $400 million in support of implementing the settlement," he said. "If one side doesn't support the settlement, there is no settlement and no aid."

Most Turkish Cypriots are eager to end their long isolation brought on by the Turkish invasion 30 years ago. They want to join the European Union and long for the economic benefits that would bring.

Greek Cypriots who oppose the U.N. plan, say they believe they can work out a better deal later, if they join the EU without the Turkish side of the island.

Ambassador Klosson says resolution of the Cyprus issue would benefit the island and the region as a whole and would avoid tensions between long-standing rivals Greece and Turkey.

"What a settlement would do is remove Cyprus as a potential flashpoint in a very sensitive area," said Michael Klosson. "It would remove potential conflict between two NATO allies.[Greece and Turkey]. It would send a powerful signal of reconciliation throughout the Middle East and throughout the world, which I think is a message the world needs in the 21st Century."

Asked what happens if the U.N. plan is rejected Ambassador Klosson would only say that will be moving into what he termed uncharted waters.

U.S., U.N. and European negotiators have warned that this may be the last and best chance for Cyprus to reunite. They warn there will not be a better offer any time soon.

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