Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cyprus Still Split over Split ; Saturday Cypriots Vote on Reunification. the Turkish Side Is Poised to Vote 'Yes,' the Greek Side Is Likely to Vote 'No.'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cyprus Still Split over Split ; Saturday Cypriots Vote on Reunification. the Turkish Side Is Poised to Vote 'Yes,' the Greek Side Is Likely to Vote 'No.'

Article excerpt

Marios Vrachimis hopes he will at last be able to return to the home in northern Cyprus he has not seen since his family was forced to flee 30 years ago.

"I have the right to my memories. I want to walk the streets of my town," he says.

Mr. Vrachimis is one of 167,000 Greek Cypriots who were displaced when Turkish troops invaded northern Cyprus in 1974 after a short- lived coup in Nicosia, the capital. Forty thousand Turkish Cypriots were also displaced.

Until last year, when limited access was allowed across the divide, the two communities on the Mediterranean island had lived apart, separated by barbed wire and minefields along a buffer zone patrolled by one of the world's longest-serving United Nations peacekeeping forces.

But Saturday both sides will vote in separate referendums on whether to accept a comprehensive UN settlement plan that would enable a reunited Cyprus to join the European Union on May 1. Right now the referendum looks destined to fail; Saturday, the Greek Cypriots' biggest political party came out against the plan. If either side votes no, EU membership will effectively embrace only the prosperous Greek Cypriot community, which represents the island internationally.

The plan is strongly backed by the EU and the US. A settlement would save the EU from taking in a divided country. It would also bolster relations between NATO members Greece and Turkey and smooth Turkey's own EU accession course. Mediators insist that, most of all, it will benefit the people of Cyprus. The plan addresses the key concerns on both sides and is the "best and fairest chance for peace, prosperity, and stability that is ever likely to be on offer," said Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general.

The plan envisages reuniting Cyprus under a loose, Swiss-style federation of two largely autonomous areas. The amount of the island's territory held by the Turkish side would be reduced from nearly 37 percent to 29 percent, enabling more than half the Greek Cypriot refugees to return to their ancestral homes under their own administration. Many others could gradually return to live in the Turkish Cypriot constituent state, while those who do not get all their property back would be compensated.

Thousands of Turkish Cypriots would need to be relocated because of the territorial handover, but tens of thousands of settlers from mainland Turkey, who arrived in northern Cyprus after the 1974 invasion, could remain.

Turkey's 35,000 troops in northern Cyprus would be reduced to 6,000 within 42 months. Eventually a token force of 650 Turkish and 950 Greek soldiers would remain to protect the respective constituent states while domestic armies would be disbanded and the 40-year-old UN peacekeeping force would be tripled in size to oversee the plan's implementation. …

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