Rival Turkish and Greek Cypriots again cast doubt on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's peace blueprint, which envisages a reunited Cyprus entering the EU.
 
If the sides fail to forge an agreement by 22 March, the 'motherlands' Greece and Turkey will enter the fray. If a deal still proves elusive, Annan himself will fill in any gaps in his plan and submit it to a pan-Cyprus referendum on 21 April.
 
"If they (the negotiations) continue (beyond 1 May) then we will reach a deal in the foreseeable future," Foreign Minister Tassos Yannitsis told reporters in Athens.

His comments appeared to raise the spectre of a possible collapse of negotiations over the future of the small east Mediterranean island, divided on ethnic lines since 1974.

News from the island was hardly any more encouraging.

"If the Annan Plan is accepted without change Turkish Cypriots will be destroyed," Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash told reporters.
 
Denktash, 80, has long opposed the UN proposals and only agreed to resume negotiations under pressure from Turkey, the only country to recognise his breakaway statelet.

Lack of accord

Ankara fears the lack of an accord will damage its own ambitions to join the EU, but given the short time remaining to clinch a deal, Denktash's remarks were especially gloomy.

Cyprus has been split since 1974

"They (the international community) should go and see our martyr cemeteries, talk to our veterans," he said, referring to the ethnic violence which preceded the division of Cyprus.

Cyprus has been split since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded the north of the island after a brief Greek Cypriot coup backed by the military then ruling Greece.

Denktash fears the much richer and more numerous Greek Cypriots will dominate a reunited island, although the UN plan would limit the number of Greek Cypriots who could return to live in northern Cyprus.

Elections

Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Talat and Denktash's son Serdar Denktash, who is the enclave's foreign minister, discussed the impasse on Tuesday in Ankara with Turkish Foreign Minister Abd Allah Gul.

Greek Cypriot President Tassos, who won elections last year with an agenda of changing the UN plan to better suit his side, accused Denktash of stonewalling.

"Today's meeting was not productive at all... Mr Denktash had the opportunity to repeat his vision," Papadopoulos said.

The Greek Cypriots appear even less enthusiastic about the Annan proposals, which would force them to share sovereignty with the minority Turkish Cypriots.

Approval threshold

Reflecting such concerns, a group of Greek Cypriot MPs called for the approval threshold in next month's referendum on the UN plan to be raised from 50%-plus-one to 70 or 75%, making a 'yes' vote harder to secure.

"This is an option we are considering. We think it is only right that for constitutional changes an enhanced majority be secured," centrist firebrand MP Marios Matsakis said.

Matsakis said he had cross-party support for the idea, but it was not immediately clear how many members of the 56-member Greek Cypriot assembly would back it.