- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

NICOSIA, Cyprus With international diplomacy registering a major failure, the people of this divided Mediterranean island are being asked to decide their own fate.
Frustrated by the failure of Cyprus' Greek and Turkish leaders to agree on a plan for reunification by a Feb. 28 deadline, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan last last week proposed that his plan be put to separate referendums on both sides of the island.
A failure to go along by either side would end the hope for a united Cyprus to join the European Union next year, prompting headlines describing Mr. Annan's action as "blackmail" or an "ultimatum."
The "Annan plan" calls for a loose federation of Greek and Turkish Cypriots, who are now separated by barbed wire and gun emplacements. It satisfies neither side, but after 28 years of armed stalemate it offers a chance at resolving one of the oldest issues on the international agenda.
"The lies and rhetoric about the Cyprus problem are over," said Greek Cypriot commentator Loucas G. Charalambous. "From now on, no political leader from either side will be able to mislead or deceive the people."
The leaders of the two communities newly elected Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos and Rauf Denktash, president of the Turkish-backed Turkish Republic of Northen Cyprus (TRNC) are to report at the Hague on March 10th, whether they accept or reject the plan.
If they accept it, separate referendums will be held in the two communities on March 30. A rejection would end the chance for a reunited Cyprus to sign the treaty of accession to the European Union on April 16 leading to membership next year.
Mr. Denktash has already described the plan as "deceptive," and the planned referendum as "someone else's order." Mr. Papadopoulos is conducting final consultations with his political supporters, including the influential Communist Party, known by the acronym AKEL, and the Greek mainland government.
Years ago, Mr. Papadopoulos rejected any form of compromise with the Turks, the historic enemies of Greeks. But at age 69 and the height of his career, he is said to have mellowed.
Diplomats in this divided capital are asking how many voters will have read or understood the several hundred pages of proposals and amendments prepared by Mr. Annan's staff.
The plan would move the border between the two sectors insignificantly but displace 40,000 Turkish Cypriots while allowing 92,000 Greek Cypriots to return to their homes in the Turkish sector.
No one has estimated the cost of litigation over lost property or whether any Greek Cypriots would want to live under Turkish Cypriot administration.
Mr. Denktash has described the plan as a "crime against humanity." But thousands have demonstrated against Mr. Denktash in the Turkish sector of Nicosia, believing that a compromise would open the door to the European Union and prosperity.
Mr. Papadopoulos appears to be hoping for Mr. Denktash to reject the plan which would relieve him of any blame for the failure of what probably is Mr. Annan's last effort in the name of Cypriot unity.

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