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Monday, 24 February, 2003, 11:24 GMT
Q&A: Cyprus conflict

The United Nations is heading attempts to bring peace to the divided island of Cyprus - but it is proving tricky to unravel decades of conflict and stalemate over the island's status. BBC News Online looks at the key issues.

What is the current state of the peace process?

Hopes of peace were raised dramatically at the start of 2002, when then President Glafcos Clerides agreed to dine with Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash in the Turkish-occupied north. It was the first time since partition that such a journey had been made.

But despite such a promising start, a clear breakthrough has proved elusive, despite the best efforts of heavyweights like UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the might of the European Union.

Debate is centred on a peace plan put forward by Mr Annan late in 2002. After some amendments, it has won broad favour with Greek Cypriot leaders and with Turkey itself. But Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash has serious objections to some provisions - although he has promised to negotiate further.

The process is running to a tight timetable. A deadline of 28 February has been set by the UN for a political settlement. Both communities would vote on the proposals on 30 March, and if they said yes, a new Cyprus would be born the next day.

What exactly is in the Annan peace plan?

The plan is to reunite Cyprus formally, but run it as two separate Swiss-style cantons for most practical purposes.

The deal would mean the Turkish community giving up some of the land it holds and many - but not all - Greek Cypriots returning to the homes they had to flee in the 1970s.

The largely symbolic presidency of the united Cyprus would switch back and forth between the two communities and large-scale demilitarisation would take place.

What outside influences are at work?

The United Nations and European Union are very keen to see a settlement to the stand-off that has lasted for nearly three decades.

Closer at hand, Turkey itself has joined the ranks of those urging the Turkish Cypriots to show greater flexibility. The leader of Turkey's governing party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has urged Mr Denktash to give ground.

The Turkish Government has a vested interest in a peace deal: helping settle the Cyprus question will boost its own chances of joining the European Union.

Cyprus itself has already won its invitation to join the EU, but if the February deadline for peace is missed, EU membership will, in effect, apply only in the south.

That would leave Turkey as technically an occupying power in the north - damaging its prospects of membership.

What about the public mood?

Turkish Cypriots have been taking to the streets in their thousands to show support for the UN peace plan.

Some have labelled the ageing Mr Denktash as a dinosaur from another era, out of touch with public mood.

Reunification would have practical benefits for Turkish Cypriots.

The north of the island is much poorer than the south and is politically isolated. It has been subject to UN sanctions and economic turmoil in Turkey has only added to its problems.

Living standards would be expected to rise if the north joined the south in benefiting from EU membership.

In the south, the public are seen as generally behind reunification, although some question the fact that some Greek Cypriots would never get back their pre-1974 homes.

What impact will the new Greek Cypriot president have?

Greek Cypriots voted in a presidential poll in Feburary to oust veteran Glafcos Clerides in favour of challenger Tassos Papadopoulos.

He is seen as much more of a hard-liner than Mr Clerides, and has criticised his predecessor for giving too much away.

However, it remains to be seen whether his tough rhetoric will turn into a tougher negotiating position.

How have previous peace efforts foundered?

UN-mediated proximity talks were under way until 2000, when Mr Denktash walked out.

He made a U-turn at the end of 2001, requesting face-to-face talks with Mr Clerides.

Several meetings between the two men were held in 2002, but real progress proved impossible, prompting Kofi Annan's radical plan.

How long has the island been divided?

Cyprus has been partitioned since 1974, when a Greek-inspired coup prompted a Turkish invasion of the northern third of the island.

Thousands of people were displaced from their homes and many have never returned.

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was declared in 1983, but has been recognised only by Turkey itself.

Since 1974 Greek and Turkish Cypriots have been living separately, divided by a so-called "green line", patrolled by the United Nations.

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