Saturday, April 24, 2004

Apologies for the lack of updates since I arrived in Nicosia -- the demands of my "real" job have meant that I've been unable to blog as much as I'd hoped and the upload of the audio I've been gathering will have to wait.

Having spent the past couple of days talking to politicians, diplomats and ordinary voters it's clear that most people here regard the outcome of today's referendum as a foregone conclusion -- the Turkish Cypriot north of the island will vote in favour of Kofi Annan's reunification plan but the Greek Cypriot south will reject it. That will mean that the Greek Cypriot half of the island will join the EU on May 1st -- with a UN-patrolled buffer zone keeping it apart from the Turkish Cypriot north. The Ledra Palace checkpoint, which marks the frontier between the two sides of Nicosia, will become Cyprus's European border.

Many people I've spoken to from the "yes" camp have accused the Greek Cypriot government of deliberately misrepresenting Kofi Annan's plan in order to secure a "no" result....and of limiting media access to those in favour of reunification under the current plan. When I spoke to the Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister, George Iacovou, though, he strenuously denied the allegations.

The Greek Cypriot administration seems determined to ignore the overwhelming pressure from the international community to accept the Annan plan. Even though the UN Secretary General has insisted this is Cyprus's last chance for peace, the government here seems to think otherwise. It's insisting that six months from now it'll be able to restart negotiations and try to secure a better deal.

When I spoke to Kofi Annan's Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto this morning, though, he made clear there is no "Plan B." He said that if Greek Cypriots reject the current plan the current chance for reunification will be lost for many years to come.

With the rejection of the Annan plan in the south of the island almost guaranteed, attention is already shifting to the percentage of people who'll vote "yes." Officials are saying privately that if the yes vote is around 35-40% the diplomatic push to reunite the island will continue.


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