Sustainable peace in Cyprus can only rest on the basis of a solid reconciliation. As long as the two communities remain apart and rely on divisive narratives to formulate their understanding of the other, it will be extremely difficult to achieve such reconciliation,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says in an unofficial copy of his report on the peacekeeping force in Cyprus, diplomatic sources have said.
Guterres finds that a surge in hard-line rhetoric on both sides has led to increased rigidity while the prospects for a mutually-agreeable settlement continue to fade.
The UNFICYP report as well as the report on his Good Offices are expected to be released in the coming days. The UN SG is expected to recommend that the Security Council extend the mandate of the mission until July 31, 2023.
According to diplomatic sources at the United Nations, the Secretary-General stresses in the report that it is important for all parties to demonstrate their goodwill and make greater efforts to create conditions conducive to a political settlement.
While there was some hope at the beginning of the current reporting period that the two sides would redouble their efforts to achieve cooperation on potential bicommunal projects, and in so doing build more goodwill and trust, paving the way for more such projects and, eventually, for a new round of settlement talks, those hopes were dashed within a few months. A surge in hard-line rhetoric on both sides has led to increased rigidity while the prospects for a mutually-agreeable settlement continue to fade, the unofficial document reads.
Guterres, urges “both sides to encourage more direct contacts and cooperation between the two communities and to provide concrete support to the initiatives as requested by the Security Council as evidence of their genuine commitment to a solution.”
As highlighted in the report “there is no doubt that the island is facing a real crisis given the number of asylum seekers, refugees and irregular migrants compared to the size of the island’s population. However, the lack of access to asylum procedures in accordance with international law continues to exacerbate the problem and is of grave concern to the United Nations.”
The Secretary-General calls on both sides to cooperate and mobilize their efforts to address the source of the problem to discuss the issue of irregular migration through meetings facilitated by United Nations field missions and with technical expertise from his representative Office of the United Nations.
The political climate between the two sides was marked by a significant hardening of positions and increase in unhelpful rhetoric, against the backdrop of election campaigning and a decrease in public confidence in the possibility of the sides finding common ground on a way forward regarding the settlement talks.
Internally, each community tended to focus its attention on domestic political developments and socioeconomic issues, it says.
It finds that there were two significant developments from a political perspective.
First, Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot leadership condemned the announcement on 16 September by the United States that it had lifted the Defense Trade Restrictions on the Republic of Cyprus for Fiscal Year 2023, and reacted by vowing to strengthen their military presence in the north of the island. Following the announcement by the Republic of Cyprus of a significant increase in its military budget, the Turkish Cypriot leadership stated that the armament activities of the Greek Cypriot side would not remain unreciprocated.
Second, on 19 September, a Turkish Cypriot delegation presented to the Secretariat a draft framework document supposed to formalize the relationship between UNFICYP and the Turkish Cypriot authorities.
Earlier in the reporting period, the report adds, the Special Representative/Deputy Special Adviser had achieved consensus with the representatives of the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot leaders on an ambitious agenda to move forward with a number of projects to address issues of mutual concern and build trust towards improved conditions for future settlement talks.
In their regular weekly meetings, they strived to continue insulating the work of the technical committees from the broader political and security dynamics concerning the Cyprus problem. As a result of those efforts, they achieved some progress, with new agreements in the areas of environment, culture, economic and trade matters, cultural heritage and several other issues. In the second part of the reporting period, however, the difficult political environment began to impact cooperation and creating setbacks to the activities of certain technical committees.
Activities of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus
The work of the peacekeeping mission continues to be impacted by the lack of common ground between the parties vis-à-vis peace talks and the absence of prospects for a mutually agreeable solution. The mistrust between the political leadership of the two sides often led to the rapid political escalation of localised low- level incidents, which in turn, amplified by partial popular media outlets, further increased the divisive rhetoric. As a result, the mission and its leadership were often caught between opposing narratives and a lack of political will to prevent such escalation.
The authority of UNFICYP, mandated by the Security Council, continued to be challenged, both as to the location of the United Nations ceasefire lines as well as regarding the role of the mission.
Prevention of tensions in and around the buffer zone
According to the unofficial copy of the report, empirical evidence suggests that illegal trafficking through the buffer zone has increased, perhaps reflecting the continuous widening of the economic gap between the two sides.
“The deep economic crisis in the north resulted in many migrants becoming increasingly vulnerable to being used for criminal activities. The movement of migrants, both north and south of the island, created tensions between the sides, and continued to trigger unconcerted reactions that, in fine, did not address the problem and created new ones by altering the status quo of the buffer zone,” it says.
UNFICYP remains particularly concerned by unauthorized construction in the buffer zone, as these affect the status quo by de facto taking over areas that were meant to remain a security buffer between the opposing forces.
A new 300-person- strong official law and order force was being established by the Republic of Cyprus to patrol along that fence in order to prevent migrants and asylum seekers from crossing to the south, it adds.
Such patrolling inside the buffer zone would be considered a significant violation. Along the northern ceasefire line, the construction of trenches and the laying of other barriers within the buffer zone appear aimed at unilaterally altering the boundaries of the buffer zone in a few localized areas.
On average, the mission deals with approximately 10 incidents in and round the buffer zone every 24 hours, liaising and engaging with both sides at all levels to ensure they do not escalate further. However, some media have on some occasions misrepresented some of these incidents, leading to misperceptions about the mission on both sides of the island. Consequently, perceptions of the United Nations by Cypriots on both sides of the island seem to have deteriorated.
In Varosha, the UN SG says that, no steps were taken to address the call made by the Security Council in its resolution 2646 (2022) to immediately reverse the actions taken since October 2020.
UNFICYP did not observe any significant change in the 3.5 per cent of Varosha where it was announced in July 2021 that the military status had been lifted in preparation for renovation; however, the mission has limited access to that area. however, the mission has limited access to that area. The previously reported vegetation clearing, electrical work, road paving and fence building continued.
Many visitors, Cypriots and foreigners alike, continued to visit the parts of the town progressively made accessible to the public. Political announcements were made regarding the potential opening of public buildings in Varosha, which caused anxiety in the Greek Cypriot community and triggered repeated calls by the mission, Member States and Greek Cypriots for the Turkish Cypriots and Türkiye to comply with relevant Security Council resolutions on Varosha., including to ensure systematic and effective monitoring and reporting by the mission.
UNFICYP, it adds, again observed the use of aerial commercial drone overflights, linked, in the mission’s assessment, to the monitoring of civilian visits. Access to the entire Varosha for UNFICYP patrols, however, remains significantly constrained since 1974. In relation to the status of Varosha, UNFICYP continues to be guided by relevant Security Council resolutions. Accordingly, the mission and the Secretariat have repeatedly expressed concern over the developments in the fenced-off part of the town.
The United Nations “continues to hold the Government of Türkiye responsible for the situation in Varosha.”
Prevention of a recurrence of fighting and maintenance of the military status quo
The situation in the buffer zone did not seem to be significantly affected by the increase in regional tensions. Data collected and assessed by the mission do not point to any clear correlation between the regional situation and security developments along the ceasefire lines.
According to the report, the overall number of military violations significantly increased in September, and this was attributed to the unauthorized installation and upgrade of surveillance equipment by the Turkish Cypriot Security Forces in Nicosia and to “moves forward” in Wayne’s Keep Cemetery (see below). By October, the number of violations had dropped again.
It continues noting that the mission observed that the Greek Cypriot National Guard added 65 new unauthorized prefabricated concrete firing positions along their ceasefire line bringing the total since 2019 to approximately 290. Along the northern ceasefire line 8 new prefabricated concrete firing positions were added, bringing the total to 11. These constructions are all unauthorized and illustrate the risk of tit-for-tat escalation that each individual violation may provoke. UNFICYP continuously protests the ongoing militarization of the ceasefire lines, which, along with the deployment of the fence, reinforce the perception of a “hard border”.
It refers to an increase in tensions between UNFICYP and the Turkish Cypriot authorities increased in the area of Wayne’s Keep Cemetery, an official Commonwealth War Graves Commission site dating to World War I.
The dispute resulted in several occurrences of “move forward” violations by the Turkish Cypriot Security Forces. While this area of the buffer zone has long been claimed by the Turkish Cypriot authorities, a modus operandi had been found over the years to reduce tensions. During the reporting period, however, the Turkish Cypriot authorities made demands for new procedures in compliance with their claim to the area, ignoring the fact that this area had been designated part of the buffer zone since 1974.
It is recalled that “as the Security Council has repeatedly made clear, UNFICYP – which established the ceasefire lines in 1974 – is the only entity competent to affirm impartially where they are located, and the rules governing the buffer zone are set out in its aide-memoire.”
UNFICYP engaged with both sides regarding the Security Council’s request to unstaff opposing forces’ positions along the cease fire lines and instead install cameras. However, it says, “the overall level of mistrust and the increasing number of irregular crossings through the buffer zone did not allow for progress on that topic. Meanwhile, unauthorized upgrades to military observation posts – including through the installation of surveillance technology – continued to be observed at a rapid pace on both sides.”
No progress was made during the reporting period regarding the clearing of the 29 remaining suspected hazardous areas on the island, including the three active National Guard minefields in the south and the Turkish Forces’ legacy minefield in the east.
Management of civilian activity and maintenance of law and order
Both sides continued, at times, to challenge the mission’s authority mandated by the Security Council. Those challenges concerned mainly two points: first, challenges over the exact location of the ceasefire lines and, second, over the mission’s authority when implementing its mandate, especially in and around the buffer zone.
On the whole, farming activities in the buffer zone were conducted in keeping with the rules of the buffer zone, as set out in the mission’s aide memoire, without provoking tensions with the opposing forces.
Regarding the maintenance of law and order, UNFICYP observed or was made aware of by the police services on average 30 civilian incidents per month inside the buffer zone, which was generally consistent with the last reporting period.
Although targeted patrols and the use of cameras has proved effective in deterring unauthorized civilian activities to some extent, especially in central Nicosia, it is assessed as likely that criminals continued their activities elsewhere in the buffer zone.
Intercommunal relations, cooperation and trust-building
Stewart, it says, continued to engage on a weekly basis with representatives of the two Cypriot leaders. Such meetings have proved critical in allowing a direct political engagement between the sides in the absence of negotiations, in addressing issues on the ground, and in discussing important projects involving both sides.
Early in the reporting period an agenda to develop and implement bicommunal projects was agreed, but by late October increased political constraints from each side had significantly slowed cooperation.
On the other hand, trade across the Green Line, regulated by European legislation, “was one of the bright spots for inter-communal interaction during the reporting period.”
“Although official data were not available, it was expected that Green Line trade would set new records this year, based in part on the reduction of impediments to the trade of several processed food items,” the report said.
It indicates that over the last six months, the Republic of Cyprus lifted in part a ban on Green Line trade of processed foods of non-animal origin produced in the north, allowing six new products to be traded for the first time. Psychological and administrative barriers continued however to prevent Green Line trade from reaching its full potential, and impeded so-called “reverse trade” – the sale of Greek Cypriot products in the Turkish Cypriot community.
The Special Representative spoke publicly in favour of removing the barriers to trade and continued his engagement with the sides and with international partners, such as the European Union and the World Bank, to promote intra-island trade as an important means of developing conditions conducive for a political settlement. Turkish Cypriot producers continued to be encouraged to adopt European Union standards in order to market their products across the Green Line.
Facilitation of access and humanitarian functions
UNFICYP continued to carry out humanitarian functions, mainly in the Karpas peninsula for the local Greek Cypriot community, and in Pyla/Pile for the Turkish Cypriot one.
Access to religious sites on the other side of the buffer zone increased during this reporting period. However, some tensions emerged on a few occasions when some Greek Cypriot priests attempted to organize services in the north and were stopped from doing so by the Turkish Cypriot authorities.
The UN SG continues noting that some 61,921 Ukrainian nationals arrived in Cyprus between 24 February and 30 October 2022, of whom 17,888 submitted applications for Temporary Protection with some 14,523 remaining in Cyprus at the end of October 2022.
The steep increase in the number of asylum applications continued in the second part of the year with the number of asylum applications submitted by the end of September 2022 in the Republic of Cyprus reaching 16,705, representing a 93% increase compared to the same period last year and exceeding by 26% the total number of asylum applications submitted in the whole of 2021.
He says that the lack of access to the asylum procedures at the crossing points of the Green Line persisted, leading to an increase in irregular crossings and rendering asylum seekers at risk of exploitation. The recruitment of 300 armed police officers who will be patrolling along the southern ceasefire line was ongoing and they are expected to be appointed in January 2023
Missing Persons in Cyprus
On the efforts of the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus, it is noted that in an effort to obtain additional information on the burial place of the missing, the Commission continued its efforts to gain access to information from the records of the countries that had a military or police presence in Cyprus in 1963/64 and 1974.
“In line with the now full digitization of the archives of its Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot offices, the Commission also uses a common web-based geographic information system application that enables the visualization and exchange of information between the three Commission offices,” it says.