Cyprus unity talks down to the wire

Frenzied talks on bringing peace to war-divided Cyprus reached their most critical phase today as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan revealed his latest - and likely final – reunification plan.

Frenzied talks on bringing peace to war-divided Cyprus reached their most critical phase today as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan revealed his latest - and likely final – reunification plan.

The 220-page document – accompanied by 9,000 pages of annexes – is Annan’s best attempt to find a deal that will satisfy both sides before Cyprus joins the European Union on May 1.

Annan handed over the document to the four parties – Greece, Turkey and Greek and Turkish Cypriot officials - in a ceremony around a five-sided table at the luxury Grand Hotel in the Swiss mountain resort of Buergenstock.

“We know we will not get some of our demands, and some of our demands will be addressed but we don’t know how satisfactorily,” said Serdar Denktash, foreign minister of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in northern Cyprus.

“We are at a point where we cannot be optimistic or pessimistic – we have to be realistic.”

Now the sides have the document “we will embark on two very heavy days and nights of give and take,” said Dimitris Christofias, speaker of the Greek Cypriot Parliament.

The Cypriot negotiators, along with the governments of Greece and Turkey, have until Wednesday to agree on the plan. If they don’t, Annan will complete it himself. Either way, it will be put to the two Cypriot communities in separate referenda on April 20.

Officials said they expected only limited changes would be possible in the next three days, and Annan’s latest draft will be very similar to the plan on which people will finally be asked to decide.

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due to arrive today, his hand strengthened by a landslide victory in nationwide local elections on Sunday.

“We are going to Switzerland with goodwill,” he said before leaving Ankara.

His Greek counterpart, Costas Caramanlis, who arrived on Sunday, also won an election recently and should have the necessary political mandate to convince the other parties that he is serious.

One of the biggest problem to be solved in the talks centres on the right of around 180,000 Greek Cypriots to return to homes in the north from which they fled or were forced out following the 1974 Turkish invasion.

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