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Turkish Cypriot Says Reunification Talks Will Be Futile, Pulls Out

March 18, 2004|Amberin Zaman | Special to The Times

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf R. Denktash said Wednesday that he was pulling out of next week's four-party talks on a United Nations plan to reunite the divided Mediterranean island because he didn't believe the negotiations would lead to a settlement.

Denktash and the Greek Cypriot leader, Tassos Papadopoulos, have been holding U.N.-mediated talks since February on ending the island's 3-decade-old division so it can join the European Union as a united nation on May 1. The outcome would have a decisive effect on Turkey's own bid to launch membership negotiations with the 15-member European bloc.

EU leaders have made it clear that they will not consider opening talks with the Ankara government unless it uses its influence with Denktash to work out a peace deal. They also have said they will allow the Greek-controlled south portion of the island to join the EU regardless of whether a solution is reached. That would deprive 200,000 Turkish Cypriots of the benefits of membership.

Pressure from EU leaders prompted Turkey's government to persuade Denktash to agree to resume talks on the basis of the latest U.N. plan that foresees reuniting the island under a loose confederation of semiautonomous Greek and Turkish states.

But Denktash, who has the backing of hawks within Turkey's powerful military, has long railed against the U.N. plan. He says some of its provisions, notably ones that allow Greek Cypriot refugees to reclaim property in the Turkish north, will again fuel communal clashes. He is threatening to campaign against the plan, which is set to be put to a referendum on both sides of the island at the end of April.

"This is the nightmare scenario for the Turkish government," said an EU diplomat in Ankara, who requested anonymity. "Without Denktash on board, any deal will be hard to sell both in Turkey and to the Turkish Cypriots, especially if some [Turkish] generals continue to publicly take his side."

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sought to play down Denktash's withdrawal, saying he did not regard it as important. "The talks will continue," he said.

Turkish and Greek Cypriots and representatives of Turkey and Greece are set to meet March 23 in the luxury Buergenstock resort, overlooking Lake Lucerne in Switzerland, to iron out remaining differences before the planned referendum.

A major sticking point, however, is the Greek Cypriot demand that EU legislation take precedence over any deal that is reached. The Turkish side fears that this would enable the island's Greek Cypriot majority to freely circulate and work in the Turkish sector, which would in turn dilute Turkish influence.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the north of the island in response to an attempted coup by Greek Cypriot nationalists to join the island to Greece. About 30,000 Turkish troops remain on the island.

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