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EU Regrets Collapse of Cyprus Reunification Talks - 2003-03-11

The European Union says it regrets the collapse of United Nations-sponsored talks aimed at reunifying Cyprus before it joins the bloc next year. Following the failure of the talks in the Netherlands early Tuesday, the United Nations says it is ending its efforts to broker a deal on the divided island.

The European Union says that only the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government will join the bloc next year unless Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders can negotiate a reunification accord before then.

But EU officials say that seems unlikely, given all the time and effort that went into the U.N.'s failed effort to bring the two sides together.

Cyprus has been partitioned since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the island and seized more than a third of it. The invasion came after a coup by Greek Cypriot militants who wanted to unite Cyprus with Greece.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked Greek Cypriot president Tassos Papadopoulos and veteran Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash to meet with him in The Hague Monday in a last-ditch effort to get them to agree to his plan to reunite the island.

Mr. Annan's idea was to get them to hold referendums on the plan at the end of this month so that a united Cyprus, and not just the Greek part, could sign an accession treaty in mid-April to join the EU.

Both sides were unhappy with the plan, which involved power-sharing, handovers of territory and population movements.

Mr. Denktash rejected the handover of some Turkish Cypriot territory, saying it would create refugees and throw many Turkish Cypriots out of their homes.

"As far as we are concerned, the plan which was on the table was not acceptable to us because it envisages the removal of about 100,000 Turkish Cypriots from their present habitations," he said.

The Greek Cypriots opposed the plan because it committed them to sharing power with the Turkish Cypriot minority in a weak central government and limited the number of Greek Cypriot refugees who would be able to return to their former homes in areas now inhabited by Turkish Cypriots.

Still, Mr. Papadopoulos sought to put all the blame on Mr. Denktash for the collapse of the talks.

"All the things that we have asked were within the parameters and within the overall Annan plan while Mr. Denktash stated repeatedly ... that he wanted to bring about radical changes to the whole philosophy and foundation of the plan because, as he said ... the plan was not meeting his expectations and what he wanted to see as a solution," he said.

Although Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the head of Turkey's ruling party and soon-to-be prime minister, had urged Mr. Denktash to strike a deal, the veteran Turkish Cypriot leader sought backing from Turkey's powerful military, which resisted giving up its right to station tens of thousands of troops on the island.

Diplomats at EU headquarters in Brussels say the collapse of the talks will deal a serious blow to Turkey's own hopes of joining the bloc.

Turkey is the only country that recognizes Mr. Denktash's breakaway mini-state in northern Cyprus and, in so doing, refuses to accept the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government's rule over the whole island.

The diplomats say Turkey will soon find itself in the position of trying to join the EU while having troops stationed on the territory of a member nation that it does not recognize.