While the leaders of the two communities remain confident an agreement can be reached, ordinary Greek and Turkish Cypriots seem increasingly uncertain.

 

“Both sides have objections to what’s being proposed,” said Ismail Sayi, a leading member of the Turkish Cypriot Businessmen’s Association.

 

“At the table, the two sides may reach a solution, but a solution just on paper is no real solution. I worry about what will happen afterwards.”

 

Ahead of Thursday's talks, it is a view shared by many Greek Cypriots.

 

“There is a big difference between talking about living together and actually living together,” said Nikos Colondis, a Greek Cypriot tour operator from Larnaca.

 

EU membership

 

The talks are the latest round of a process begun in New York earlier this month.

 

Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopolous and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash are due to come together to discuss their differences on the UN’s proposals for reuniting the island.

 

These proposals are known as the Annan Plan, after the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan.

 

Many on both sides of the island want the plan agreed so that Cyprus can enter the European Union as a united island on 1 May, when EU membership is due to begin.

 

Yet for others, earlier enthusiasm for a settlement seems to be dwindling.

 

“When I came here a year or so ago,” leading Turkish columnist Ferai Tinc told Al Jazeera.net from Nicosia, “almost everyone wanted to sign the Annan Plan.

 

“A long time has passed since the island was last a single entity. A whole new generation of Turkish Cypriots has been born, while other Turks have moved here from Turkey. They all see this as their land – they find it very difficult to understand why they should give any of it to Greeks”

 

Ismail Sayi,
Turkish Cypriot Businessmen’s Association
 

Divided loyalties

 

"Now though, as things have got more serious, many are putting on the brakes.”

 

Last December’s general election in the northern, Turkish Cypriot part of the island showed how divided loyalties had become.

 

The final vote was almost a complete dead heat between those in favour of parties supporting the plan and those against.

 

“People who were supporting the plan completely before are now coming forward with lots of questions about its ambiguities,” added Tinc.

 

Meanwhile, central to the plan’s success are the two communties’ big brothers – Greece and Turkey.

 

Both of these are currently seeking to warm up long frosty relations and see Cyprus as a thorn in the side of further rapprochement.

 

Greece-Turkey rapprochement

 

Many in both Athens and Ankara would dearly love to see the problem solved once and for all.

 

“Greek public opinion is ready for a solution with the Annan Plan,” said Greek commentator and columnist Evangelos Arteos.

 

“The government has been pushing for this and the opposition New Democracy (ND) is in full support of this policy, so there’s broad, cross party support for an agreement.”

 

This has taken the Cyprus issue largely out of discussion in an otherwise heated run up to 7 March general elections in Greece.

 

ND is marginally ahead in the polls, yet whichever party wins, the same Cyprus policy is likely to continue.

 

In Turkey too, the government seems firmly behind a solution.

 

Dissenting voices

 

Turkey has plans of its own for EU membership, and would like the Cyprus issue to be solved in order to clear its own path to Brussels.

 

Turkish-Cypriots are divided over
whether to support reunification 

Yet there are dissenting voices in Ankara.

 

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader, Deniz Baykal, accused the government on Monday of kowtowing to foreign pressure in pushing for a Cyprus solution.

 

“The new policy line shows we have entered a new era when we are given instructions and obey what others say,” he told the Turkish parliament.

 

“Today it is Cyprus, tomorrow there will be other issues taken up.”

 

The EU, US and the UK are all pushing hard for an agreement on the Annan Plan.

 

Referendum

 

Yet the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has a massive parliamentary majority and is unlikely to budge from its course, whatever the CHP – and its close contacts in the Turkish military – may say.

 

“This week what we will see is Denktas and Papadopolous coming together and talking about technical issues,” said Arteos.

 

“Then, in March, according to the process, Greece and Turkey will join the talks to discuss the bigger issues. After that, the UN will fill in the details and present the final draft to a referendum on both sides of the island.”

 

Most observers think the referendum will pass, although Tinc said, “yesterday, in the Greek Cypriot part of the island, I saw the first ‘OHI!’ (NO!) written on a wall.”

 

“While Greeks may be in favour of a solution, we’re not too sure the Greek Cypriots are,” added Arteos. “Many say that the majority of them don’t like the plan.”

 

There are clearly many sticking points for both sides.

 

Lost land

 

“A long time has passed since the island was last a single entity,” said Sayi. “A whole new generation of Turkish Cypriots has been born, while other Turks have moved here from Turkey.

 

"They all see this as their land – they find it very difficult to understand why they should give any of it to Greeks.”

 

Under the Annan Plan, part of the territory currently under Turkish control would be handed over to Greek Cypriot administration.

 

This is partly to return land lost by Greek Cypriots when the Turkish army invaded the island in 1974, in response to a Greek-backed coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece.

 

“Greek public opinion is ready for a solution with the Annan Plan. The government has been pushing for this and the opposition New Democracy (ND) is in full support of this policy, so there’s broad, cross party support for an agreement”

 

Evangelos Arteos,

Greek commentator and columnist

Back then, 200,000 Greek Cypriots were forced to flee from the Turkish army.

 

These refugees are a powerful lobby arguing they should be allowed to return to their previous homes.

 

“Under the Annan Plan, many of these would be allowed back, but many wouldn’t,” said Tinc.

 

Displaced persons

 

“Whatever the case, their return will create thousands of displaced persons - Turkish Cypriots who will have to give up what has become their homes.

 

"The plan says the new government of the reunited island will have to deal with this problem. But nobody knows where these people will go, how or where their new accommodation will be built and who will pay for it.”

 

So far, the EU has pledged only EUR300 million to fund the whole reunification process, while also agreeing to try and convene a doners’ conference.

 

“The most important problem in all of it,” said Tinc, “is who will pay.”

 

“We have to be very careful,” said Sayi. “We need time, after an agreement, for both sides to appreciate each others’ rights.”

 

Time, however, is in short supply.

 

If an agreement cannot be reached by 1 May, Cyprus will join the EU, but without the Turkish Cypriots.

 

The implications of that are something few in Ankara - or Athens - would like to contemplate.