The absence of a solution to the Cyprus problem is “increasingly unsustainable,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said, stressing that since the collapse of the UN-brokered talks in the Swiss resort of Crans Montana in July 2017, tensions on the island “have progressively increased over time.”
“I continue to believe that the absence of a resolution of the Cyprus problem is increasingly unsustainable. The lack of negotiations since July 2017 does not mean that the situation on the island remains unchanged, either at the political level or in the buffer zone,” Guterres said in an unofficial copy of his report for the renewal of the UN Peace Keeping Force in Cyprus mandate, handed over to the members of the Security Council.
The UN Chief recommends that the Security Council extends the mandate of UNFICYP for six months, until 31 January 2021.
In his remarks for his Good Offices Mission, Guterres highlighted that “three years have now passed since the intensive talks at Crans-Montana, making it more challenging to resume negotiations.”
He also recalled his remarks following the Berlin meeting with the Cyprus leaders in November 2019 that he “will continue to extend my efforts to achieve terms of reference to serve as a consensus starting point for phased, meaningful, and results-oriented negotiations at the earliest feasible opportunity.”
“In this regard, I committed to explore with the Turkish Cypriot leader and the Greek Cypriot leader and with the Guarantor powers the possibility to convene an informal five-plus-UN meeting at an appropriate stage. I underscore the point that this time must be different,” he said.
Stating that he still holds out hope that a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus is possible, Guterres however added that the global advance of COVID-19 has, unfortunately, added to an already complex situation on and around the island.
“Rising tensions in and along the buffer zone, concerns over irregular migration and the flow of refugees both on the island and in the region, friction in relation to the possible opening of Varosha, hydrocarbons exploration and, increasingly, maritime boundary delimitation have strained relations among the parties to the Cyprus issue,” he said.
He also reiterated that he continues to stress “that natural resources located in and around Cyprus should constitute a strong incentive to reach a mutually acceptable settlement to the Cyprus problem without any further delay. I urge all relevant parties to renew dialogue and explore possibilities for regional cooperation and call for serious efforts to be taken to defuse tensions.”
He furthermore pointed out that tensions in the region and in particular in relation to hydrocarbons were palpable once again in this reporting period.
Turkey has conducted six illegal drilling operations in areas included in the exclusive economic zone of the Republic of Cyprus and it repeatedly blocked drilling operations by companies licesend by the Cypriot government. Furthermore, it signed a memorandum of understanding with the Libyan GNA on maritime zones exacerbating tensions with Greece, which considers the MoU as invalid.
“I have repeatedly stressed that the natural resources found in and around Cyprus should benefit both communities and constitute a strong incentive for all parties to find a mutually acceptable and durable solution to the Cyprus problem. Bearing in mind that all parties have expressed their commitment to this objective, I reiterate my call for serious efforts to avoid any further escalation and to defuse tensions,” the UN Chief said.
In his comments in his report on UNFICYP, Guterres commended both sides for the efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus outbreak on the island, Guterres however notes that “opportunities for more tangible bi-communal appeals and initiatives were missed.”
“As restrictive measures are being lifted, including at the ports of entry to the island, it is essential that movement within the island be allowed along with incoming travel,” he said, encouraging the leaders, with the support of the Technical Committee on Health and cooperation from relevant authorities on both sides, to work together and develop a comprehensive plan for the full reopening of all points of crossing.
He also noted the decision by both sides to restrict passage at crossing points was made without consultation with the other community but he added that he encouraged by the leaders’ joint decision in May to work on the re-opening of crossing points for certain categories of individuals, in spite of the postponement of the agreement’s implementation by the authorities in the north.
“Moving forward, I encourage the leaders to develop a comprehensive plan for the full reopening of the crossings,” he said.
Guterres once more reiterated that, “despite the critical importance of confidence-building measures and other forms of cooperation between the communities, which I continue to strongly encourage in order to improve the daily lives of Cypriots and create conditions conducive to a comprehensive settlement, these initiatives, including the work of the technical committees, cannot replace a viable and comprehensive negotiation process to reach a peaceful settlement in Cyprus.”
Moreover, he echoed the Security Council’s call to the sides and all involved participants to renew their political will and commitment to a settlement under United Nations auspices. I look forward to renewed dialogue on the Cyprus issue and urge the parties to find a path back towards a comprehensive settlement as soon as possible.
Stating that some concrete achievements on the implementation of previously agreed confidence-building measures were made last year, Guterres added that “given a tense regional climate and its impact on Cyprus, I further call on relevant regional actors to pursue restraint, explore confidence-building and take constructive approaches to the Cyprus problem.”
“It is important that the parties continue to demonstrate their good will and make greater efforts to create conditions conducive to a successful negotiation process,” he noted.
As the UN Chief observed, in their efforts to promote closer cooperation between the communities, local and international actors continue to be confronted with challenges and obstacles linked to the status of the northern Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus and concerns relating to “recognition”, even in this exceptional period.
“While United Nations policy on Cyprus is maintained and decisions of the Security Council on the matter are upheld, concerns about recognition should not in themselves constitute an insurmountable obstacle to increased cooperation,” he said.
Furthermore, Guterres welcomed “the parties’ stated commitment to seeing a military contact mechanism established,” expressing hope that beyond general statements, concrete action can now be taken, following the tabling by my Special Representative of a proposal on 1 May.
“I remain convinced that progress on this issue would allow the parties to effectively alleviate day-to-day tensions and would be an important military confidence-building measure. I urge the parties to work with my Special Representative to establish this mechanism, thereby also meeting the expectations of the Security Council,” Guterres concluded.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied 37% of its territory. Repeated rounds of UN-led peace talks have so far failed to yield results. The latest round of negotiations, in July 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana ended inconclusively.