Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos urged voters Wednesday to reject a United Nations plan for the reunification of his war-divided island.
Cyprus’ Greek and Turkish communities will vote April 24 on the plan, which was submitted by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to reunite the island after 30 years of separation into a loose federation before Cyprus joins the EU on May 1.
Papadopoulos said in a televised speech that rather than leading to reunification, the plan “makes its (current) partition permanent.”
“After judging all the facts and with a full realization of the historic moment we live through and my heavy responsibility, I am sincerely sorry that I cannot sign acceptance of the Annan plan,” Papadopoulos said.
Annan’s plan is a last-ditch attempt to reunify the Mediterranean island before it joins the EU. The two sides and the Greek and Turkish governments failed on March 29 to reach an agreement of their own after lengthy talks.
Papadopoulos said he had consulted foreign constitutional law experts and listened to arguments for and against the plan.
For 30 years an island divided
The two major Greek Cypriot political parties, the communist Akel — the main partner in Papadopoulos’ ruling coalition government — and the opposition right wing Democratic Rally have backed the plan.
Cyprus has been divided since a 1974 Turkish invasion following an abortive coup by Greek Cypriot supporters of union with Greece. A breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north is only recognized by Turkey, which maintains 40,000 troops there.
“The plan writes off the Turkish invasion and the consequences of the occupation” and legitimizes “the illegal presence of the tens of thousands of Turkish mainland settlers, Papadopoulos said.
Polls have shown a majority of Greek Cypriots are against the plan. Their main objections is that it limits the right of all Greek Cypriot refugees — numbering about 200,000 — to return to the north and reclaim their properties in compliance with Security Council resolutions, while allowing more than 60,000 Turkish mainland settlers in the north to remain.
He said the plan violates basic human rights and principles of the European Union ensuring the right of refugees to return and to repossess their properties.
EU status in the balance
Papadopoulos spoke just a few hours after Greek opposition leader George Papandreou, who was foreign minister until his party’s defeat in February, appealed to the Greek and Turkish Cypriots to approve the plan so Cyprus could enter the European Union as a unified nation.
Turkey has accepted the U.N. plan but Turkish Cypriot opinion is also split on acceptance, with polls showing approval by a margin of only a couple of percentage points.
Veteran Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash rejected the plan and said he will campaign hard for its rejection in the referendum.
If Cyprus remains divided after May 1, EU laws and benefits will only apply to its internationally recognized Greek Cypriot southern part.
The European Union’s expansion commissioner, Guenter Verheugen, said from Brussels earlier Wednesday that the opportunity for reunification of the island “should not be missed.”
“I can only express the hope that the two communities in Cyprus will seize this opportunity to reconcile their differences,” he said.