Athens — A declaration of independence by the Turkish-occupied side of Cyprus has dealt a serious blow to UN efforts at mediating a solution to the 10-year-old dispute.
Tuesday's vote by the Turkish-Cypriot Assembly to form a Republic of Northern Cyprus was seen by some analysts as a move to gain a better bargaining position in the UN mediation, rather than a serious step to form a new nation.
The vote reportedly caught Turkey by surprise, although Ankara immediately recognized the move. Turkey's foreign minister, Ilter Turkmen, asserted that his country had nothing to do with the action and was not even notified in advance. Turkey's soldiers have occupied the northern one-third of the island since a 1974 invasion.
Some observers speculate that Turkish Cypriots were concerned that the newly-elected Turkish government of Turgut Ozal might negotiate a deal without their full participation, and took the action unilaterally.
How the situation develops will depend on how Greece, Turkey, and the UN react to the Turkish-Cypriot action and what sort of role other powers of significant influence on the Cyprus situation - principally the United States and Britain - choose to play.
The UN Security Council began debate Tuesday on how to react to the vote. The Security Council mandate for the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus must be renewed by Dec. 15 and now the Security Council must renew Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar's mandate to mediate.
A spokesman for the Cypriot government in the Greek sector, which is recognized by the international community as the island's sole legal government, declared the action ''an illegal act'' and pledged to make every effort to reverse it.
The stage for the declaration of independence was set May 13 when the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for the withdrawal of Turkish troops from the island. Turkish-Cypriot
leader Rauf Denktash angrily denounced the resolution and suggested he would propose independence for the Turkish sector.
Few had believed Mr. Denktash would carry out his threat, although he has repeated it on many occasions. He once even asserted that he would carry it out shortly after the Nov. 6 Turkish elections, which he has done.
The main reason nobody took the threat overly seriously was the overwhelming opposition of the international community - including Turkey, which has repeatedly stated its disapproval of any such moves and declared its firm support for the efforts of Perez de Cuellar.
Denktash had called for the UN's ''intercommunal'' talks to be conducted directly between the Greek and Turkish sectors.
Perez de Cuellar was in the process of preparing the ground for a meeting between Cypriot President Spiros Kyprianou and Denktash when the vote was taken. There were also reports that the Secretary-General was ready to make new proposals.
Despite the seriousness of the action, nobody is willing yet to say the chances for a solution to the Cyprus problem - or even for the continuation of the Perez de Cuellar initiative - have been dashed. All prefer to wait to see how Turkey, Greece, the US, and the UN react before making a judgment.
One informed source pointed out that Turkish-Cypriot press reports stressed that the declaration of independence was ''not a secession,'' but was intended to establish the Turkish sector as an equal partner with the Cypriot government at the negotiating table. This, the reports maintained, would bring the parties closer, not push them further apart.