Greek Cypriots accept UN plan to reunify island for EU entry


CYPRUS: Greek Cypriots have formally accepted a UN plan for the reunification of the Mediterranean island. A definitive response has yet to come from the Turkish side.

The President of Cyprus, Mr Glafkos Clerides, wrote yesterday to the UN envoy, Mr Alvaro de Soto, following consultations in Athens and a morning meeting of the Cypriot national council, an advisory body made up of the heads of political parties represented in parliament.

As he left the gathering, Mr Michalis Papapetrou, the Cyprus government spokesman, said the council had recommended acceptance but expressed concern that the time-frame set by the UN Secretary General, Mr Kofi Annan, was tight, and suggested that deadlines should not be regarded as binding. In spite of this protest, the government met the first deadline to avoid being seen as the recalcitrant party.

Since Mr Annan presented his plan to the Greek and Turkish sides on November 11th, Mr Clerides has repeatedly said that he was prepared to reach an agreement without delay. But he insists that the settlement "must be viable" and "guarantee peace and co-operation on the island". Cyprus has been divided ethnically between the substantially Greek south and Turkish north since 1974, when Turkey invaded following a coup inspired by the Greek mainland.

The island gained independence from Britain in 1961.

The UN plan is for a federal republic modelled on the Swiss canton system, with each community having substantial self-government on the island but being represented internationally as a single state entity.

The Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr Rauf Denktash, signalled his readiness to negotiate on the basis of the proposal during a televised address broadcast on Sunday.

However, he also complained about the UN's strict deadlines and about the two maps appended to the plan, which he said should be the "last thing to be submitted". Mr Denktash, who has not recovered from recent heart surgery, returned to hospital at the weekend.

In spite of Mr Denktash's ill health, Mr de Soto said on Sunday that the two sides should adhere to deadlines. The UN aims to secure agreement on a framework by December 12th when the EU enlargement summit convenes at Copenhagen, and to submit the final settlement proposal to the two communities in separate referenda on March 30th, 2003.

The UN is determined that Cyprus should enter the EU as a unified country.

A poll published in the Greek language daily Politis revealed that 52 per cent of Greek Cypriots oppose the plan, 28 per cent approve and 20 per cent do not know how to react or were not ready to respond. Respondents said their primary concern was security.

Following a meeting of its synod, the Cyprus Orthodox Church has expressed strong opposition to the plan.