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Turkish Cypriots lament plan's defeat

North pinned hopes for businesses on Cyprus reunification

KYRENIA, Cyprus -- Hasan Beydola, a Turkish Cypriot textile exporter near bankruptcy, was glum yesterday, a day after Greek Cypriots sank a UN plan to reunify Cyprus -- and with it hopes that his business would get a boost when the island enters the European Union.

Now, Beydola and other Turkish Cypriots are waiting to hear how the EU will keep its promise to reward them for supporting the UN plan.

Turkish Cypriots in the north overwhelmingly voted "yes," but Greek Cypriots in similar numbers in the south voted "no" in twin referendums Saturday.

With the defeat of the plan, which required agreement from both sides, all of Cyprus will enter the EU, but the union's laws and benefits will apply only to the internationally recognized south.

Cyprus has been divided since Turkey invaded in 1974, putting down a short-lived coup by supporters of the union with Greece. For three decades, international isolation of the north meant Beydola could export only to Turkey -- the sole country recognizing his breakaway state. After Turkey's 1995 customs union agreement with the EU, even those exports declined.

The per capita gross domestic product among Turkish Cypriots is about $4,610, compared with $14,499 among Greek Cypriots and $22,740 for the current 15 EU member states.

Had the Cypriots approved the reunification plan that the EU helped the United Nations draft, $311 million would have flowed in to help the north, and mechanisms to start trade with Europe would have been instituted.

EU foreign ministers open a two-day meeting in Luxembourg today to discuss measures to help Turkish Cypriots. Some possibilities would be the creation of trade opportunities, elimination of tariffs on farm products, or funding for infrastructure development. Lifting the trade embargo may prove difficult, because it was the result of judgments by the European Court of Justice.

The UN plan envisioned a federation of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot states under a weak central government. The Turkish area of the island would have been reduced from 37 percent to 29 percent, requiring entire villages to be uprooted. The number of foreign troops -- 40,000 Turks and 6,000 Greeks -- would have been gradually reduced to a maximum of 6,000 by 2011 and 1,600 by 2018.

Greek Cypriots objected that the plan did not provide for the return of the Greek Cypriots who fled south in 1974. They also said it did not address their security fears and allowed Turkish troops to stay too long. Greek Cypriots say that they still hope for reunification, but under a better deal, and that they bear Turkish Cypriots no ill will.

Tassos Papadopoulos, president of the Greek Cypriots, said yesterday without elaboration that his government will make specific proposals at today's meeting to "enable the Turkish Cypriots to enjoy as much as possible the benefits of their country's accession to the EU."

"The Greek Cypriots are not turning their backs on their Turkish Cypriot compatriots. On the contrary, we shall work for a solution that will meet the hopes and aspirations of both communities," Papadopoulos said.

Turkish leaders urged the EU to reach out to Turkish Cypriots.

"It is an undeniable fact that the Turkish side was the active and constructive side for a Cyprus solution," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said. "I believe that the policy of isolating, of alienating [Turkish Cypriots] will now come to an end."

Though many Turkish Cypriots celebrated their vote Saturday, they have a hard time believing the outside world will welcome them. World sympathy has largely been with the Greek Cypriots since 1974.

"I don't think anyone really cares about us Turkish Cypriots," said Beydola, sitting on a plastic chair along a street in the old part of Kyrenia.

"Greek Cypriots got what they wanted, and they are entering the EU. Turkey will continue with its EU bid and trade with Greek Cypriots, who will be part of the bloc. And us? Turkish Cypriots will carry on like this for another 30 years," he said.

Hasan Cemal, a columnist for the Turkish daily Milliyet in Kyrenia, was optimistic. "The embargoes on the Turkish Cypriots will be lifted eventually. The situation of Turkish Cypriots will get better with increased international involvement and aids," he said. "Turkish Cypriots can only have better tomorrows, since things cannot get worse than this."

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