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Cyprus talks tops agenda of Annan's trip to Europe

24 March 2004 Resolving the Cyprus problem will top the agenda as United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan travels to Europe and North Africa this weekend for a two-week, four-nation visit.

The Secretary-General will head first to the village of Bürgenstock, near Lucerne, Switzerland, where the latest stage of negotiations on his plan to reunify Cyprus before its entry into the European Union on 1 May got under way today.

According to a UN spokesman, the Greek and Turkish Foreign Ministers have joined the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot delegations in Bürgenstock, with the Secretary-General's Special Adviser, Alvaro de Soto, scheduled to meet each of the four by the end of today.

Speaking in Bürgenstock, Mr. de Soto told reporters that discussions between the parties had already been held either in bilateral meetings or with him shuttling between the two sides, and that work continued in Cyprus to finalize agreement on technical issues.

"We are coming to the point, we hope, of convergence," he said. "The Cypriots have never, in the past three years, been so close to actually coming to a settlement and we hope that they will also take advantage of this opportunity."

Starting 19 February the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, and the Greek Cypriot leader, Tassos Papadopoulos, met in Cyprus for face-to-face talks in a bid to reach agreement on modifications to the Secretary-General's plan, which would then be submitted to separate referenda on 20 April for approval by the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots.

After the talks stalled, Mr. Annan invited Greece and Turkey last week to lend a hand in Bürgenstock. The two countries' Prime Ministers are expected to join the discussions on Sunday. Should this last push fail to resolve disagreements, Mr. Annan would then step in to use his discretion to complete the plan, which would ultimately create a federation of two constituent states - a Greek Cypriot state and the Turkish Cypriot state - and contains some suggestions for security arrangements between Greece and Turkey.

After taking part in the Cyprus talks, the Secretary-General will go to Tunis to attend and address the meeting of the League of Arab States. Afterwards, Mr. Annan is scheduled to travel to Vienna for the semi-annual meeting of the Chief Executives Board (CEB), which brings together the heads of UN specialized agencies, funds and programmes.

From Vienna the Secretary-General will go to Moscow for an official visit, meeting with President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other officials.

Mr. Annan will return to Switzerland to address the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, and is expected back in New York before Easter, his spokesman said.

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