THE HAGUE (Reuters)–Cyprus peace talks collapsed on Tuesday and the United Nations announced the end of efforts to reunite Greek and Turkish Cypriots before the island signs an accession treaty to the European Union next month.
The European Commission swiftly warned Turkey that the talks breakdown threatened Ankara’s own hopes of joining the EU and the suspicion was also raised of new tension between NATO allies Greece and Turkey.
In a bitter personal blow to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan–the talks mainly foundered on the opposition of minority Turkish Cypriots to land and population movemen’s they were asked to make in the deal.
"Regrettably these (peace) efforts were not a success. We have reached the end of the road,” said a statement by Annan.
"I share tonight with all peace-loving Greek and Turkish Cypriots as well as Greeks and Turks a deep sense of sadness,” said the statement by Annan–who had hoped a deal might be a defining achievement of his leadership of the United Nations.
"I’m not sure another opportunity like this will present itself again any time soon,” he added.
Cyprus has been partitioned since Turkish troops invaded in 1974–seizing the poorer northern one-third of the island in response to a coup by Greek Cypriots seeking union with Greece. Some 30,000 Turkish troops are in northern Cyprus which is only recognized by Ankara.
European Commission spokesman Jean-Christophe Filori said the EU would go ahead and sign an accession treaty with a divided Cyprus–represented only by the Greek Cypriot government–on April 16 in Athens as planned.
Cyprus would formally accede on May 1–2004 after all member states and candidates ratified the treaty.
But if there was still no peace settlement when the EU executive reported in December 2004 on Turkey’s own bid to open accession talks–it would be very difficult to recommend starting negotiations–he told reporters.
"If by the time of the report at the end of 2004 there is still no settlement on Cyprus–we will be facing a weird situation where a candidate country knocking at the door does not recognize one of our own member states,” Filori said.
Greece and Turkey–whose support of their communities on the island has pushed them close to war in the past–vowed to overcome the setback.
"The secretary-general said there was no agreement but he did not completely close the doors,” Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul told reporters in Ankara.
In Athens–Greek foreign ministry spokesman Panos Begilitis said: ”The political will for peace from our side remains alive.”
ANNAN DEEPLY SADDENED
But Annan’s statement–read by his Cyprus envoy Alvara de Soto after marathon talks by the secretary general with Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos and veteran Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash–left little room for optimism.
Annan said the 18-month-old office set up by de Soto in Nicosia to support the UN peace effort would close.
UN peacekeepers who have long policed the border between the two communities along the so-called "Green Line” would stay.
"Our morale is zero. I wish the plan was never introduced–it gave us hope–a hope which is obviously now a false one,” said 53-year-old Turkish Cypriot Gulsefa Atakan.
Annan had hoped to persuade Denktash and Papadopoulos to hold referendums on the plan on March 30 so that a united Cyprus could sign the April 16 EU accession treaty.
He said that although he had suggested the two leaders keep negotiating until March 28 and hold a referendum on April 6–even this was not possible.
Papadopoulos was ready to keep trying but Denktash ruled out further immediate talks–Annan said.
Lord David Hannay–Britain’s special envoy on its former colony Cyprus and a key behind-the-scenes player in the peace process–placed the blame squarely on veteran Turkish Cypriot leader Denktash’s shoulders.
"I am sad about it but I do not think that Denktash left him (Annan) any alternative,” Hannay told Reuters.
ANNAN SAYS IRAQ CAST A CLOUD
While not directly linking the collapse of the talks to the Iraq crisis–Annan said during a break in the negotiations that the issue had cast a cloud over his efforts.
"Let me say that one of the difficulties we had to face in this stage of the search for a Cyprus settlement is that our work is being overshadowed by the atmosphere of crisis and great anxiety that is affecting the whole world–the question of Iraq and its disarmament.”
During talks that went on for 15 hours–US President George W. Bush called Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan to discuss the Iraq crisis and Cyprus and said he backed Annan’s plan.
Denktash believed the plan would make 100,000 of his people refugees on an island where two-thirds of the 750,000 population are Greek Cypriots. "This was not a plan we could ask the people to vote on,” he told reporters.
Greek Cypriots opposed the plan because it committed them to sharing power with a minority and restricted the number of Greek Cypriots who would be able to return to their former homes.
"As long as Denktash was involved this was always going to be the outcome. All he wants is his little kingdom,” said Greek Cypriot Martinos Christodoulou.
The plan had called for the island to be governed as a federation based on the Swiss model–with a presidency rotating between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.