Russia has vetoed a draft Security Council resolution aimed at encouraging Greek and Turkish Cypriot voters to approve a plan to unify their divided island. Britain and the United States had sponsored the measure at the urging of Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Fourteen of the 15 Security Council countries voted for the U.S. and British-sponsored resolution. Only Russia's acting ambassador Gennady Gatilov raised his hand to oppose.
The Russian veto killed a last minute attempt to persuade Cypriot voters to approve a U.N. reunification plan for their island in Saturday's twin referendum.
In explaining his use of the veto -the first by Russia since 1994-Ambassador Gatilov said Russia supported the substance of the draft, but voted 'no' for what he called technical reasons. He spoke to the Council through a translator.
"The Russian delegation expresses deep regret over how the work was structured on the draft resolution that was put before a vote today in the Security Council. This has to do with the elaboration of a serious decision on the parameters of a new UN peacekeeping operation on Cyprus and imposition of an arms embargo," he said.
The other 14 members regretted Russia's decision. British Deputy Ambassador Adam Thompson said despite the failure of the resolution, he hoped the 14 yes votes would send a signal to Cypriot voters that the United Nations stands fully behind Secretary General Kofi Annan's plan for the island's reunification.
"The fact that the overwhelming majority of the Council did vote in favor of this resolution does send that strong message of support for the plan, which offers the people of Cyprus a historic opportunity to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Cyprus," he said.
Secretary General Annan had asked for the resolution in a last-minute attempt to save his plan for reunifying Cyprus. Opinion polls indicate Greek Cypriots will reject the Annan plan when the island votes in twin referenda Saturday. A rejection by either side would kill the proposal, and mean that only the Greek part of the island would become a member of the European Union May first.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, the Secretary General issued a plea to Cypriots to think about the consequences of a 'no' vote. "I hope people of Cyprus realize that on Saturday they have a historic decision before them. A decision that will allow a reunited Cyprus to find its place in Europe, working with the Europeans, becoming part of the European Union, or a decision they take may maintain the divisions that have existed for so long," he said.
Mr. Annan warned that if either side votes no, his role in trying to settle the 30 year Cyprus dispute would be ended. The countryhas been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded the island in the wake of an abortive coup by supporters of union with Greece.