Thursday, October 14, 2004

NICOSIA, Cyprus — The Greek-Cypriot government is facing a quandary caused by the European Union’s acceptance of Turkey’s candidacy — a diminishing international interest in what has become known as the Cyprus problem.

Compounding the problem is a U.N. plan to reduce by one-third its 1,200-strong peacekeeping force, even though the Mediterranean island remains divided, with about 30,000 Turkish troops controlling the northern part. The U.N. contingent has been here since 1964.

The Greek-Cypriots long have enjoyed international support as a nation illegally occupied by Turkish forces, but now no one wants to punish Turkey for the 1974 invasion, which came in response to a Greek coup aimed at linking Cyprus with Greece.

The EU leadership “has absolved Turkey of its sins in Cyprus,” said George Vassiliou, a former president of Cyprus.

The EU document accepting Turkey’s candidacy for membership last week did not mention its military presence in Cyprus, something that shocked the Greek-Cypriot political spectrum.

Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos says he has “reserved the right” to veto Turkey’s application at an EU summit in December, but that is considered unlikely.

“We do not wish to exercise the right of veto; we do not wish to hamper accession talks with Turkey, but basic issues regarding Cyprus should be taken under consideration,” government spokesman Kypros Chrisostomides has said.

To sustain at least some attention on the island’s division, Mr. Papadopoulos has embarked on a campaign of direct contacts with EU members, including Belgium and Finland, with other trips to follow.

His most important task will be to explain why Greek-Cypriot voters overwhelmingly rejected an EU plan to reunite the island in a referendum in April. Turkish-Cypriots, long seen as the obstacle to any solution, handily accepted the plan.

As an apparent reward, the European Union has earmarked $321 million for the development of northern Cyprus — even though the Greek-Cypriots think that as the island’s internationally recognized government, they should control all trade and aid in Cyprus.

None of this bodes well for progress in the stalled communal negotiations, with the Greek side feeling that it cannot make concessions on such key issues as the departure of the Turkish troops and the return of refugees to their homes.

“We are back to square one,” commented the English-language Cyprus Mail daily. “The solution of the Cyprus problem will once again be consigned to the realm of theoretical abstraction and unattainable targets.”

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