Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash threatened today to walk out of peace talks in New York if European leaders clear the way for Greek Cypriots to join the European Union.
On Friday, Denktash and Greek Cypriot leader Glafcos Clerides are scheduled to begin two weeks of U.N.-sponsored negotiations to try to lay the groundwork for a settlement of the tense standoff on the divided island. During these "proximity talks," U.N. officials will serve as intermediaries between Denktash and Clerides, who will not meet face to face.
In the midst of these delicate talks, the European Union may consider a bid for membership by Greek Cypriots at an EU summit in Helsinki on Dec. 10-11. "Unfortunately, in Helsinki they may make the terrible mistake of crowning Greek Cypriots under the false title of 'the government of Cyprus' by giving them a timetable to becoming a member" of the European Union, Denktash said in an interview.
Ignoring an appeal by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan for a news blackout on the talks here, Denktash said he would resist pressure from the United States, the United Nations and European powers to abandon his efforts to preserve the northern portion of Cyprus as an independent state.
"I keep on telling them, 'Look, I've been talking to these Greek Cypriots for 24 years now, and I haven't got what I want,' " he said.
Senior U.N. officials refused to discuss the substance of the proximity talks, saying only that they would deal broadly with security and the distribution of power, property and territory on Cyprus. Alvaro de Soto, the U.N.'s chief envoy to Cyprus, said U.S. presidential envoy Alfred Moses and British envoy Sir David Hannay will participate on the sidelines.
U.N. peacekeepers have maintained an uneasy peace between Cyprus's Greek and Turkish communities since 1964. The island effectively has been partitioned since 1974, after an invasion by the Turkish army aimed at reversing a Greek-sponsored coup.
While the U.N.-patrolled demilitarized zone is "essentially stable," according to a report released today by Annan, the two sides continue to brandish weapons, shout insults and throw stones at each another.