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Cyprus divided on EU future

By CNN's Brent Sadler

The U.N. buffer zone has separated Cyprus for 30 years.

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NICOSIA, Cyprus (CNN) -- In Nicosia, Europe's last divided capital city, a Berlin-style wall separates Greek from Turkish Cypriots who are soon to vote on a U.N. plan for reunification.

It's been three decades since Turkish paratroopers dropped onto this Mediterranean island in the sun.

The invaders claimed they were blocking a Greek-inspired coup aimed at uniting Cyprus with Greece at the expense of ethnic Turks.

Today in Nicosia droves of tourists do the shooting with cameras -- sneaking pictures of the U.N.-policed buffer zone.

But maintaining calm in the island-wide corridor has become one of the longest-lasting peacekeeping missions anywhere.

"We're a bit like old furniture, old wallpaper. People take us for granted except when they need us," says U.N. spokesman Brian Kelly.

Eight years ago an unarmed Greek Cypriot demonstrator was shot dead climbing a Turkish Army flagpole, turning the Cyprus division into an even deeper chasm.

But now the United Nations hopes to heal the rift with the latest plan for unity, which calls on the two communities to live under their own rule in a power-sharing bi-zonal federation.

"It's a time warp," says U.N. peacekeeper Brian Doherty. "Nothing has happened here for 30 years, and it is difficult to imagine what the future will hold."

It is as if time has stood still here as a testament to the failed diplomatic efforts to solve one of the world's most intractable conflicts and bridge a gaping sectarian divide.

Turkish Cypriots seem likely to vote "yes" on the U.N.-brokered plan. But there's widespread hesitancy among their Greek counterparts, whose president ended a recent televised address with an emotional "no." Many Greek Cypriots feel they're getting a raw deal that ignores longstanding land claims.

U.N. special adviser Alvaro de Soto says it would be "a very grievous setback" if the U.N. plan was rejected. But he adds: "I don't think it will happen because I trust the wisdom of the people."

Regardless of how they vote, Greek Cypriots will join the European Union on May 1. But the Turkish north will be left out if either side says no -- prolonging and perhaps further complicating a big dispute on a small picturesque island.

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