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U.N.'s Annan: Cyprus accord 'within our grasp'


Leaders begin talks in rural isolation

In this story:

July 9, 1997
Web posted at: 3:20 p.m. EDT (1920 GMT)

AMENIA, New York (CNN) -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Wednesday that an end to the division of Cyprus was within reach, but that the consequences of failure could be more dire than at any time in recent decades.

Annan was opening five days of U.N.-sponsored talks between the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities -- President Glafkos Clerides and Rauf Denktash -- aimed at reviving negotiations on establishing a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.

"I invited the leaders of the Cypriot communities to meet here for face-to-face talks because I believe that a lasting peace in Cyprus is now within our grasp," Annan said at an opening ceremony.

Isolated on purpose

The talks -- the first such meeting in three years -- are taking place in the conference room of an English-style inn at Troutbeck, a retreat 145 kilometers (90 miles) north of New York City.

To encourage quiet diplomacy, the United Nations is keeping the media at a distance and plans a news blackout. Amenia was chosen in part because of a lack of accommodations for reporters and television crews.

No agreements are expected. Instead, U.N. officials hope the two sides will agree to meet again next month, possibly in Switzerland.

U.N. and U.S. officials hold out little hope for major developments until the Greek Cypriots hold their presidential elections next February.

Annan said his special envoy for Cyprus, former Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Diego Cordovez, would be submitting "a number of suggestions" to facilitate their work.

Divided island


Cyprus has been virtually partitioned since troops from Turkey took over the north of the island in 1974 to foil a coup by Greek Cypriots, supported by the military government then ruling Greece.

But divisions between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots go back even further.

In 1963, three years after Cyprus won independence from Britain, a government representing both communities broke apart amid violence that resulted in the dispatch of a U.N. peacekeeping force that is still on the Mediterranean island.

About 1,200 U.N. troops police a 180-kilometer (112-mile) buffer that divides the two communities.

The Greek Cypriots, whose government in Nicosia enjoys broad international recognition, have proposed a central administration with each community enjoying a degree of autonomy.

Turkish Cypriots, who make up 20 percent of the island's population, fear domination by the Greeks and insist on equality for their community. About 30,000 Turkish troops remain in the northern part of the island.

Missile dispute

In his speech, Annan said young Cypriots were growing up under a "cloud of uncertainty and potential instability."

"For their sake ... this dispute must be brought to an end," he said.

"The consequences of failure are likely to be more dire than at any time in recent decades," he added, apparently alluding to forthcoming events that could precipitate a crisis.

These include talks expected to begin next year on European Union membership for Cyprus and the Nicosia government's planned deployment of Russian-made S-300 air defense missiles.

Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots do not recognize the Greek Cypriot-led Nicosia government and say it cannot negotiate EU membership for the entire island.

Any move in that direction would result in linking northern Cyprus even more closely with Turkey, they say.

Turkey, with air bases little more than 40 miles (65 km) from Cyprus, has also said it would take any steps necessary to prevent the deployment next year of the S-300 missiles.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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