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U.S. pledges $400 million to support U.N. plan for reunifying Cyprus

SHARE U.S. pledges $400 million to support U.N. plan for reunifying Cyprus

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The United States pledged $400 million Thursday to support a U.N. plan for reunifying Cyprus, but stressed no money would come unless voters on the divided island approve the settlement in a referendum next week.

Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, made the pledge at the opening of a meeting convened to assess the total needs for Cyprus, which were estimated at more than $1.7 billion over five years, primarily for housing.

"Absolutely, it's conditional on a settlement," Natsios said. "If they don't approve it, there's nothing to implement." He said $100 million would be available "for immediate needs" and the rest would be disbursed in future budgets.

The pledge was being announced before the vote, Natsios said, to help assuage the "legitimate fear" among some Cypriots that the international community might "abandon" the island financially afterward.

"We wanted to make it clear that that should not be the basis for people to vote," he said.

The European Union was expected to announce plans for about $385 million in aid later Thursday.

Recent opinion polls indicate 70 percent of Greek Cypriots oppose the U.N. plan, while 60 percent of Turkish Cypriots support it.

The main Greek Cypriot objections are that the plan limits the right of Greek Cypriot refugees to return, while allowing tens of thousands of Turkish settlers introduced to the occupied north since the 1974 Turkish invasion to remain.

Leaders of both sides of the island have rejected the proposal, but its fate will be determined in separate referendums on April 24 — a week before Cyprus is to join the EU. If either side rejects it, EU laws and benefits will apply only to the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south of the island.

Representatives of more than 30 nations and organizations at the preparatory conference, hosted by the EU, were making a needs assessment ahead of a full-fledged donors conference planned for later this year.

The U.N. plan devised by envisages a single state made up of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot federal zones linked through a weak central government.

About 16,000 to 18,000 households are expected to move because of "territorial adjustments" called for in the plan, meaning in some cases entire new towns or villages will need to be constructed, including roads, water and electricity.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Abdullatif Sener estimated another 50,000 Turkish Cypriots will need to move because of the reinstatement of property to the previous, Greek Cypriot owners — despite the limits on the numbers allowed to return.

Non-Cypriots — mainly from Turkey — who don't receive permanent residence also will be eligible for a grant of no less than euro10,000 (US$11,900) for a family of four to return to their country of origin.

"It would not be fair to expect Turkey to shoulder the full financial burden," Sener said.

The U.S. aid still needs congressional approval, but Natsios said there was "widespread support" in Congress for the settlement.

"The money will be there — if the vote takes place," he said.