The negotiations are to put a completed agreement to a referendum in April in time for a reunited Cyprus to join the European Union on 1 May, according to a UN statement issued on Wednesday.

Annan has spoken in recent days with top Turkish, Greek and Greek Cypriot officials about a new round of negotiations aimed at reuniting the Mediterranean island before its accession to the European Union.

He wrote letters to Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash and the Greek Cypriot leader, Cypriot President Papadopoulos, "to summon the political will needed to bring about this result in the short time available," the UN statement said.

"He has also set out what needs to be done for this to happen," the statement added.

"The objective of the negotiations would be to put a completed text to referenda in April 2004, in time for a reunited Cyprus to accede to the EU on May 1, 2004"

UN statement

But it was not immediately clear if Denktash had accepted the invitation. 

One UN diplomat said he doubted Denktash had said "yes" yet. However, Annan believed that after support from Turkish leaders in Ankara, "there was enough momentum for the talks to go ahead," the envoy said.

Cyprus has been split along ethnic lines since 1974, when a Greek Cypriot coup inspired and backed by the junta then ruling Greece provoked Turkish troops to invade the north of the island.

The internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government joins the European Union on 1 May - with or without a deal. 

In the  statement, the United Nations said Annan had also asked the prime ministers of Greece, Turkey and Britain, the former colonial power, to have representatives on hand for the talks in New York next week. 

"The objective of the negotiations would be to put a completed text to referenda in April, 2004, in time for a reunited Cyprus to accede to the European Union on 1 May,
2004," the statement said.

It is not clear if Rauf Denktash
has  accepted the invitation

"The secretary-general was moved to take this initiative by his recent, encouraging contacts on the Cyprus question during his trip to Europe and afterwards," the statement added. 

An earlier round of reunification talks broke down in March after Denktash refused to put Annan's power-sharing plan to a referendum of Turkish Cypriots.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said earlier he had worked out a common approach to Cyprus talks with Denktash and the head of the Turkish Cypriot government, Mehmet Ali Talat, in Ankara. 

"We have identified a common goal," state-run Anatolian news agency quoted him as saying. 

"But I want this to be known. Within the framework of our
national policy, we cannot tolerate the destruction of the Turkish identity in northern Cyprus. This will be protected and
strengthened."