EU Membership Row May Scuttle Bid for Cyprus Unity
NICOSIA, CYPRUS — THIS week, as the European Union discusses membership for Cyprus, the issue of unity for the island looms.
The talks, which the EU and the United States thought would help reunify the island, instead have divided Europeans and brought strong warnings from Turkey and Turkish Cypriots that the island's segregation could become permanent.
The Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded after an abortive coup by Greek Cypriots seeking union with Greece.
The breakaway Turkish Cypriot state, proclaimed unilaterally in 1983, is recognized only by Turkey, which maintains more than 30,000 troops there. The EU's decision to exclude Turkey as a prospective member - until it improves its human rights record and its relations with rival Greece - has worsened the standoff in Cyprus.
The government in Ankara and the leader of the Turkish Cypriots, Rauf Denktash, charge that bringing Cyprus into the EU before the island is reunited amounts to a step toward union with Greece, which is already an EU member.
Mr. Denktash said the talks "destroyed the chances of a fair settlement in Cyprus by treating one of the equals as the government of the other." He also rejected a Greek Cypriot offer to join in the negotiations.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem went to Nicosia on March 30 to escort Turkish Cypriot officials to Ankara for talks on closer integration. He also warned the EU to "carefully assess the steps it is taking." The Turkish Cypriots warned March 31 they might merge with Turkey.
During an EU meeting this month, France proposed postponing the talks until the island is reunited. Greece then warned that the talks should start on time with all prospective new member states, including Cyprus, or it would veto the whole procedure.
Denktash has refused to attend United Nations-sponsored reunification talks with Greek Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides unless the northern state is recognized and the EU cancels the talks.