Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish Cypriot Rauf Denktash, head of a breakaway state in the north, will sit down for negotiations in Nicosia, almost a year after the last initiative collapsed.

They are committed to a tight deadline agreed in New York last week after UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, backed by Britain, the United States and the EU, forced the two sides back to the negotiating table.

A deal in line with a plan drawn up by Annan in 2002 will pave the way for Turkish as well as Greek Cypriots to be part of an enlarged Europe, help resolve longstanding differences between their respective "motherlands" and smooth the way for Ankara's own EU ambitions.

"I think that what ever happens, a compromise will be found. A majority of Greek Cypriots are not happy with the Annan plan and believe it to be unfair, but when it comes to a vote, the most important thing will be to unite the country"

Christoforos Christoforou,
Political analyst

"I think what ever happens, some compromise will be found," political analyst Christoforos Christoforou said.

"I can't envisage how the international community will let this slip, because there will be no such opportunity in the future."

Although most Greek Cypriots believe they will be the losers in any settlement based on Annan's blueprint, the downside of a non-settlement will probably persuade them to back it in a referendum, he said.

"A majority of Greek Cypriots are not happy with the Annan plan and believe it to be unfair, but when it comes to a vote, the most important thing will be to unite the country," said Christoforou.

Greek Cypriots argue arrangements to restore "their" land and property, do not go far enough, and the transitional period covering the movement of populations is excessive.

Power-sharing arrangements, security issues and how many Turkish immigrants are allowed to stay will be other areas the Greek Cypriots seek to improve in the talks.

Denktash seeks changes

More and more Cypriots are in
favour of reunification

His counterpart is no fan of the UN blueprint and also seeks wholesale changes that will satisfy his community.

Speaking to the Turkish Cypriot news agency TAK on Tuesday, Denktash said: "We are making preparations" and that they "envisage amendments required to protect our rights".

Furthermore, Denktash and Papadopoulos do not share the rapport that existed between the veteran Turkish Cypriot leader and his previous Greek Cypriot sparring partner, Glafcos Clerides.

Clerides bowed out in February 2003, after losing the presidential election to Papadopoulos, who unlike his predecessor has a low credibility rating among Turkish Cypriots.

If the rival leaders cannot see eye-to-eye on key issues by 22 March, then Greece and Turkey will step in for a week in an effort to push them forward.

If there are any issues remaining on 29 March, they have agreed in a major concession for Annan to "fill in the blanks" so the plan can be put to the popular vote in each side of the island in April.

No 'Plan B'

The country will have a new flag
and a new national anthem

UN envoy Alvaro de Soto will pick up where he left off a year ago, encouraged by an apparent U-turn made by Denktash, who scuppered the initiative last year.

But he has made clear there is "no plan B" if, despite everything, either community rejects the plan in the referendums, a prospect he described in Brussels on Tuesday as "tragic".

As before, the talks will take place at a refurbished 1940s passenger terminal once part of the now defunct Nicosia international airport, which forms part of a large UN base area on the line dividing the capital.

De Soto confirmed on Tuesday that, as before, meetings would be held three times a week.

Denktash has said the agenda of the talks and details about how they will proceed will become clear after De Soto meets the two parties on Wednesday.

Talks agenda

Technical committees will work to negotiate the laws and constitution of the central government and the two constituent states, make sure international treaties are compatible, choose a new flag and anthem for the new Cyprus and look at the financial aspects.

The wealthier Greek Cypriot majority is afraid that it will have to bear the cost of a settlement estimated in the region of $14 billion.

To encourage a settlement, the EU has offered the carrot of $259 million in development aid over 2004-2006 for the north.

In the event, no one is forecasting an easy run of it.

As Turkish Cypriot newspaper Afrika put it on Tuesday: "We will see how much the two parties favour peace from the attitudes they display at the referendums.

"The Greek Cypriot side will pray for the Turks to say no and the Turkish side will pray for the Greek Cypriots to say no," it wrote.