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Talks to unify Cyprus fail as rivals spar

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Talks to unify the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus collapsed early Tuesday after rival Greek and Turkish leaders failed to agree on a United Nations power-sharing agreement.

"We have reached the end of the road," U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said after an all-night negotiation session with leaders of the two sides and their backers.

Annan had used Cyprus' impending entry into the European Union to pressure Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash to agree on a federation plan that would bring the two sides together under a single weak central government.

The talks stumbled over Turkish insistence that their breakaway Cypriot state win full recognition, and demands by the Greeks for the right of refugees to return to homes in northern Cyprus that they left 29 years ago.

"The efforts to salvage the project of a united Cyprus . . . regretfully have not proved successful," Annan said.

Turkish and Greek officials, however, said they would continue to try to resolve the Cyprus problem despite the failure of The Hague talks.

At a press conference Tuesday, outgoing Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said the door for peace was not completely closed.

"We have made positive efforts toward a solution in Cyprus, and we will continue to do so," Gul added.

In Athens, Greek foreign ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis blamed the impasse on Denktash and said it "disappoints and saddens" Greece. However, he added that "The Hague is not the end of the road. It cannot be the end of the effort. "

Annan brought the two leaders to The Hague on Monday to get their commitment to submit his reunification plan to their communities in a referendum.

There, he huddled with special envoys from Greece, Turkey and Britain for several hours after Papadopoulos left the talks accusing Denktash of rejecting Annan's reunification proposals. The U.N. chief failed to come up with a package that would rescue the plan.

"The Annan plan is not acceptable," Denktash said, complaining that the proposal to allow a limited return of Greek refugees would require 100,000 Turkish Cypriots to leave their homes — a figure contested by the Greek community.

Annan said that Papadopoulos had accepted the plan with the provision that in gaps in it regarding federal legislation and security issue be filled in "so that the people know what they are voting on."

In contrast, Denktash said he was rejecting both the plan and Annan's proposal that it be people in separate referendums.

Details of the final negotiations were not known, but Annan had been expected to offer amendments to his plan and an extension of the March 30 deadline for the approval by the two Cypriot communities in separate referendums.

Annan left open the possibility of resuming the talks at a later stage. "My plan remains on the table" for the two leaders to pick up whenever they are ready, he said.

At the same time, he said he was instructing his special envoy to Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto, to close his office on the island and return to New York to prepare a full report.

If the plan had been approved by the Greek and Turkish communities, Cyprus could sign an accession agreement with the European Union on April 16 as a united country.

Without agreement, the whole of Cyprus will be accepted as a member, but with provisions for EU laws to apply to the breakaway Turkish north only after the island is reunited.

Cyprus has been split since Turkey invaded in 1974 in the wake of an abortive coup by supporters of union with Greece. The breakaway state in the north, about one-third of the island, is only recognized by Turkey, which maintains 40,000 troops there.