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Cyprus Observes 29th Anniversary of Island's Division - 2003-07-18

People on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus are marking the 29th anniversary of the division of their island, at a time when hopes for reunification have recently been dashed.

It was 29 years ago this week that a coup in Cyprus, engineered by the military junta then ruling Greece, prompted the Turkish takeover of the northern third of the island. People in both communities are paying tribute to all those who lost their lives in the coup [July 15] and the following invasion [July 20].

Since 1974, there have been countless efforts to try to broker a deal to reunite the country. All have failed.

Earlier this year, there was a new effort and renewed hope.

In March, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan put his prestige behind a plan to reunite the island in an effort to have a united Cyprus approved for European Union membership.

"It is therefore easy to understand that decision time has come, that decision time has arrived; and that's why the parties must adhere to the goal of reaching a decision on the 28th of February," he said.

But the effort failed. Only the internationally recognized Greek-led government in Nicosia will be admitted to the European Union.

Since the failure of the U.N. plan, there have been some positive developments, most notably the opening of the Line of Control between the Greek and Turkish sectors, so ordinary people can travel back and forth to visit relatives and do business.

Still, the prospect of a deal to reunite the country seems more remote than ever. There is barely any dialogue between the leaders of the two communities, and in recent weeks, both sides have said there is little chance of returning to peace talks soon.

The U.N. special envoy to Cyprus, Alevero De Soto, says the open border is a small thing, compared to what is needed on the island.

"It does not solve the Cyprus problem; it doesn't reunify the island; it does not get Turkish Cypriots into the EU," said Mr. De Soto. "All the pending issues regarding territory, property claims, how they would govern themselves if they were to get back together again, even the security problems - they are all pending.

"Nothing has been resolved," he continued. "All you have is a certain freedom of movement. The parties know what they have to do to get the [U.N.] secretary-general involved again, and that is to accept a serious framework and timetable for negotiations, that is to pick up where we left off when the secretary-general's three-year effort didn't come to a conclusion at the beginning of March."

The Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash has faced unprecedented criticism from inside his own community for what many saw as his unreasonable stand at the talks. He said the plan would create too many Turkish Cypriot refugees, and give away too much Turkish Cypriot territory.

But Mr. Denktash, who has ruled northern Cyprus since the split 29 years ago, is defiant, and he remains critical of the U.N. plan and secretary- general Annan.

In an interview, Mr. Denktash called the U.N. plan a non-starter.

"It is a non-starter," Mr. Denktash said. "And we have all the legal opinion behind us showing it does not give us what our status demands. So, we cannot play with it. Annan's plan is not Annan's plan. He has given his name to a plan, which does great injustice to my people, first of all by uprooting almost half of my people, creating a refugee problem in order to settle a refugee problem, which can be settled by exchange of property and compensation fairly, squarely and quickly. And it destroys our status under the 1960 agreements as the second people of the island, on which the partnership estate was established. It is a non-starter. And I hope the secretary-general will understand it. He has been deceived to believe that this Annan plan is the best way out."

After the collapse of the talks, the U.N.'s peace mission to Cyprus closed, and there are no plans for further negotiations. This 29th anniversary of the island's division will likely not be the last.

Meanwhile, last Monday [July 14], the Greek-led Cypriot government accepted the European Union's membership invitation. Cyprus will join the EU, along with nine other countries, next year. But with the current deadlock in the peace process, Turkish Cypriots in the north, who make up 20 percent of the island's population, will be left out.