Talks to reunify Cyprus have failed, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan announced today as he left all-night negotiations with Greek and Turkish leaders of the island.
"We have reached the end of the road," Mr Annan said, signalling the end of months of intense efforts to reunite the island split into Greek and Turkish sides since 1974.
Mr Annan had used the island's impending entry into the European Union to pressure Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash to agree on a federation plan that would bring the two sides together under a single weak central government.
If the plan had been approved by the Greek and Turkish communities, Cyprus could have signed an accession agreement with the European Union on 16 April as a united country.
Without agreement, the whole of Cyprus will be accepted as a member, but with provisions for EU laws to apply to the breakaway Turkish north only after the island is reunited.
The talks stumbled over Turkish insistence that their Cypriot state won full recognition, and demands by the Greeks for the right of refugees to return to homes in northern Cyprus that they left 29 years ago.
Mr Annan cited other issues that proved beyond reach. He said the Greek Cypriots wanted more clearly defined powers for the central government and an agreement on "security issues," a reference to the number of troops from Greece and Turkey which could be stationed on the island.
Mr Annan met special envoys from Greece, Turkey and Britain for several hours after Mr Papadopoulos stormed out of the talks accusing Mr Denktash of rejecting Annan's reunification proposals. The UN chief failed to come up with a package that would rescue the plan.
"The Annan plan is not acceptable," Mr Denktash said, complaining that the proposal to allow a limited return of Greek refugees would require 100,000 Turkish Cypriots to leave their homes — a figure contested by the Greek community.
He suggested that property rights could have been handled in a global exchange of population — an idea not included in the plan that Mr Annan put forward after months of preparation.
He brought the two leaders to The Hague on Monday to get their commitment to submit his reunification plan to their communities in separate referendums.
Greek officials said their side agreed in principle to hold a popular vote, but Mr Denktash told reporters, "this was not a plan we could ask the people to vote on."
Details of the final negotiations were not known, but Mr Annan had been expected to offer amendments to his plan and an extension of the 30 March deadline for the approval by the two Cypriot communities in separate referendums.
He left open the possibility of resuming the talks at a later stage. "My plan remains on the table" for the two leaders to pick up whenever they are ready, he said.
At the same time, he said he was instructing his special envoy to Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto, to close his office on the island and return to New York to prepare a full report.
He said he shared "a deep sense of sadness" with residents of the island. "I am not sure another opportunity like this one will present itself again any time soon."
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies