A Destructive Vote in Cyprus

This editorial appeared online in the April 27, 2004 issue of the New York Times.

NEW YORK. – The overwhelming vote by Greek Cypriots on Saturday to reject the United Nations reunification plan for their divided island was destructive but hardly a surprise.

The Greek majority on Cyprus had made no secret of its distaste for the plan, largely because of limits on the number of Greeks who would be able to reclaim the property they lost when Turkey invaded the northern part of the island in 1974. The United States and the European Union had hoped they could overcome that resistance through political pressure. But the hard fact is that the Greek Cypriots knew their government would be joining the E.U. on May 1 as *#8220;Cyprus,*#8221; with or without a deal with the Turkish north. The only way to restore any chance for reunification now is for the E.U. and the United States to get tough, by lifting economic sanctions on the Turkish north and sharply limiting aid to the Greek south.

Both Turkey and Greece supported the efforts of the U.N. secretary general, Kofi Annan, to forge a compromise; Turkeys prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was especially courageous. But the reactionary leaders of both sides of the island campaigned hard against the U.N. plan, and Mr. Annan couldnt overcome the Greek Cypriots conviction that they had no need to give away so much. Under the *#8220;Annan Plan,*#8221; the share of the land held by the Turks, less than 20 percent of the islands population, would drop, but would still be 29 percent.

Among Turkish Cypriots, who have endured international isolation for 30 years, 65 percent voted in favor. Seventy-five percent of the Greek Cypriots voted against.

The size of the Greek vote suggests that it would be futile to hold another referendum soon. But the E.U., the U.N. and the United States cannot call it quits.

With Turkey knocking at Europes door, the division of Cyprus cannot be left to fester. That means promptly ending the Turkish norths economic isolation and expediting the money promised to the north in the event of unification. And the E.U. should sharply cut aid to the south.

That will keep the Turkish Cypriots interested in reunification, while sending a clear signal to Greek Cypriots that the world does not tolerate open-ended feuds.