De Soto gets his own plane for direct flights to Ankara

THE UN has given its Cyprus special envoy Alvaro de Soto a chartered private plane to ease travelling difficulties between Cyprus and Turkey and save time during the intensive talks he is conducting between Athens, Ankara and Nicosia.

Spokesman Brian Kelly said the seven-seater plane, a Beechcraft King Air turbo propeller was first used by De Soto when he returned from Ankara to Cyprus on Thursday evening.

Kelly said the plane, chartered from a Danish company, met De Soto in Ankara. The UN envoy had travelled there from Berlin on a commercial flight. Yesterday he hopped onto the plane, based at RAF Akrotiri, to fly to Athens for a meeting with Greek Foreign Minster George Papandreou and was expected to return to Cyprus later last night.

“The chartering of the plane was in the works for several weeks,” Kelly said. “Clearly it was understood that there would be an increase in travelling or intensity of consultation as we came closer to December 12,” he added, referring to the deadline for the signing of a preliminary agreement based on the UN settlement plan submitted by UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan on November 11.

“As a precaution this was put in the works and one of the primary benefits is being able to fly direct to Ankara,” Kelly said.

Because of the political situation on the island, anyone who wishes to fly to Turkey must first fly to Athens, since planes leaving Larnaca Airport are not allowed to fly over Turkish airspace.

The ban meant that each time De Soto needed to fly to Ankara, he would have to fly to Athens, from there to Istanbul and from there to Ankara.

“That has meant in effect that any time Mr De Soto and his team have had consultations in Ankara, they have to leave here the previous evening, overnight in Athens, change plane then fly to Istanbul and change flight again and continue to Ankara,” Kelly said. With the private plane from Akrotiri, the flight is only around three hours “as opposed to almost a day”.

“With intensive travel like this what Mr De Soto loses in frequent flyer miles he gains in greater efficiency and all out of commitment to the consultative process,” Kelly said.