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Rejection of UN Renunification Plan Dashes Hopes of Many Turkish Cypriots - 2004-04-28

The overwhelming rejection by Greek Cypriot voters of a United Nations-brokered reunification plan for Cyprus has dashed the hopes of many, especially the majority of Turkish Cypriots, who endorsed the plan.

In Northern Cyprus, the streets here are filled with small shops and outdoor restaurants like Yusuf Choban's grill and cafe.

"It gets a fair number of customers at lunchtime, but it could be doing much better," Mr. Choban said. "Less than 50 meters from here is a big concrete wall, the dividing line between the northern Turkish and southern Greek portions of Cyprus's capital, Nicosia."

Yusuf Choban was among the many residents of northern Cyprus who hoped that wall was about to come down.

He voted 'yes' in Saturday's referendum, along with more than 60 percent of Turkish Cypriot voters, endorsing a U.N. plan to reunite Cyprus after 30 years of ethnic partition. Mr. Choban says reunification would have put his cafe right in the center of Nicosia, easily accessible to Greek and Turkish Cypriots alike, as well as to the many foreign tourists who come here on vacation. Three-fourths of Greek Cypriots voted against the U.N. plan, and so it will not be implemented. The island remains divided and the wall stays.

A 20-minute drive up the road lies the picturesque coastal town of Kyrinya.

This used to be a Greek Cypriot town, but those inhabitants fled after the 1974 invasion by Turkey and the subsequent partition of the island.

Not far from the old harbor, with its boardwalk and outdoor restaurants, is the renowned Dome Hotel. Its Greek Cypriot owners have long gone. Its Turkish Cypriot general manager, Tahir Keftejoglu, said that the potential is there, but business is being hampered.

"Our guests come from Turkey, the United Kingdom, Germany and the other European countries," he said. "But they can't fly directly here. First, they must touch down in Turkey, and after that, they come here. You know, it's not easy to contact with them directly."

Mr. Keftejoglu said that the main problem is the international embargo imposed on northern Cyprus after the Turkish invasion. The invasion was sparked by years of sectarian violence and a Greek Cypriot coup aimed at uniting the entire island with mainland Greece.

Only Ankara recognizes the Turkish Cypriot enclave as an independent country. Trade has to come through Turkey, as do international flights bringing tourists. Like many Turkish Cypriots, Mr. Keftejoglu hopes that might soon change.

"If we get out of our embargo on our part, maybe we will get better numbers in the future, maybe fly to [and from] any European country direct to north Cyprus," he said.

The Greek Cypriot rejection of the U.N.-brokered reunification plan has angered and disappointed international negotiators. The plan was supposed to pave the way for a united Cyprus to join the European Union on May 1. Now, the Greek Cypriot government takes the island into the EU, while the Turkish Cypriots get left out.

The EU and the United States have indicated they would reward Turkish Cypriots for their support of the U.N. plan. Turkish Cypriots hope that might mean at least a partial lifting of the embargo and an opening of sea and airports to international traffic.

One Cyprus analyst, James Ker-Lindsay of the Civilitas Research center in Nicosia, says the EU will have to tread carefully.

"The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is not recognized by any other country, except for Turkey," he explained. "There is a U.N. Security Council resolution, which prevents countries from recognizing it. Europe has got to be very careful about not overstepping boundaries that have been drawn. It is a very fine line between extending economic assistance and taking steps that could be legally seen to be some sort of recognition."

So far, EU foreign ministers have pledged more than $300 million in aid to northern Cyprus. Unless plans are outlined to lift the embargo, Turkish Cypriots are likely to be disappointed as they watch their already wealthier Greek Cypriot counterparts enjoying the benefits of EU membership, something they, too, had hoped for.