Cyprus peace talks collapse into chaos

The Swiss lakeside resort of Montreux has joined an illustrious list: that of places where the leaders of the Greek and Turkish communities have failed to reach an agreement on Cyprus.

The Greek Cypriot President, Glafcos Clerides, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, arrived last Monday at their hotel perched in splendid isolation above Lake Geneva.

Under the auspices of the United Nations Secretary-General, and coached by diplomats from the European Union, United States, Britain, Sweden, Greece, Turkey, Russia and other countries, they discussed their differences - but without agreement.

After the end of the talks, Mr Diego Cordovez, special adviser to the Secretary-General, condemned the two sides for leaking top-secret discussion papers that were intended purely as a series of proposals open to debate.

"The leakage to the press caused damage because you cannot negotiate publicly," he said. Mr Cordovez acknowledged that a main task of his job will be to reduce such instances that help trip up the peace process in Cyprus.

The failure of the talks reflects negatively on his own recent involvement in the Cyprus problem. During last month's meeting of the two sides in Troutbeck, near New York, he had forecast that Montreaux would be a "defining moment".

Yesterday, both Cypriot sides were critical of his efforts, but the diplomats present showed much greater understanding.

Mr Denktash accused the EU of "throwing a bombshell" in its Agenda 2000 which included the announcement that accession negotiations for Cyprus to join the EU will begin in January 1998.

If that aspect of the agenda is accepted by the EU Council of Ministers, meeting during the Luxembourg summit next December, he promised to stop the negotiations. "We object because the EU application was made by the Greek Cypriots; and no Cypriot government has represented the whole of Cyprus for the last 34 years." He accused the Greek Cypriot side of attempting to colonise the Turkish Cypriot north through the EU.

One hour later, President Clerides promised that "if there is any interference in the accession process I will not be negotiating".

Turkish and Turkish Cypriot diplomatic sources said that if the EU negotiations with Cyprus begin, it will be a defacto recognition by Brussels that the island consists of two sovereign states. The Turks argue that since the Greek side technically fulfils the Maastricht criteria for both EMU and accession, there is only the political side left to sort out.

"The Greeks will blackmail the EU into dropping any political reservations they may have about the problem," said an analyst from the Turkish foreign ministry.

The Greek Cypriots spoke of failure. The UN was slightly more optimistic. "We are back where we started, but not entirely," Mr Cordovez told a press conference yesterday.