Tue, Apr 27, 2004 - Page 6 News List

EU to reward Turkish Cypriots

BUILDING BRIDGES After Greek Cypriots rejected a UN-brokered unification deal, the EU said it would lift sanctions and give aid to the Turkish in the north

THE GUARDIAN , NICOSIA, CYPRUS

A Turkish Cypriot couple peer from behind a fence at the Green Line dividing the Cypriot capital Nicosia on Sunday, one day after Turkish Cypriots approved the UN plan to reunite while their Greek counterparts massively rejected it.

PHOTO: AFP

The EU is to reward Turkish Cypriots for endorsing the UN reunification plan for the island, which was thrown out by the Greek Cypriots in Saturday's referendum.

European foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg are poised to lift the economic embargo of the Turkish Cypriots, approve a 260-million-euro aid package for the north, and allow tariff-free entry of fruit and vegetables into the EU.

"The Turkish Cypriots have taken a bold and important step and stopped saying no after 30 years. They mustn't suffer," a Brussels diplomat said.

Gunter Verheugen, the EU's expansion commissioner, told German television after Saturday's vote: "What we will seriously consider now is finding a way to end the economic isolation of the Turkish Cypriots."

The yes vote from the Turkish side is likely to boost the chances that Turkey itself will get the green light to start its long-awaited EU membership talks this year.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's reformist prime minister, moved quickly to cash in his chips, calling on the EU to acknowledge the role played by his country in changing minds in the north, occupied since the 1974 invasion.

"It is an undeniable fact that the Turkish side was the active and constructive side for a Cyprus solution," Erdogan said. "I believe the policy of isolating Turkish Cypriots will now come to an end."

The no vote will cast a long shadow over the EU's enlargement with 10 new members next weekend, since the Mediterranean island is still divided and the base of thousands of Turkish troops.

EU leaders are furious at the Greek Cypriots, with Brussels expressing "deep regret" at the outcome of the 11th-hour vote.

Chris Patten, the external affairs commissioner, on Sunday accused the Greek Cypriots of betrayal. He told the BBC: "They're not going to be a popular addition to the family."

The results showed 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots voted yes and 76 percent of the Greek community voted against the UN plan.

Patten said: "There has always been an implicit understanding that we would make Cypriot accession to the union easier and in return the Greek Cypriot community and leadership would argue the case for a decent settlement ... so I think we feel that we have, as it were, handed over the chocolate and they have refused to hand back the crisps."

An air of stunned disbelief hung over the north on Sunday.

"What is wrong with us? I don't understand, it's so stupid," said Ozgun Yoldas outside his Nicosia kebab shop.

Greek Cypriots toed the line of Tassos Papadopoulos, their leader, who termed the blueprint "unviable" and risky.

Soon after the result, the Turkish foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, ruled out possibility of a second referendum on the plan.

"With the Greek Cypriot answering no, the partition of the island has been made permanent," he said. And Turkey would not withdraw its 35,000 troops.

The international community hoped both sides would bury their ethnic differences to endorse the plan in time for Cyprus joining the EU.

The ramifications of the no vote, according to EU diplomats, could be devastating for the Greek Cypriots. The prospect of an EU border ending at the island's UN-patrolled "dead zone" has especially unnerved mandarins in Brussels.

With its sandbags, trenches and barbed wire, the 180km ceasefire line resembles more of a 1914-18 battlefield than a modern border crossing.

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