UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has recommended that the Security Council extend the mandate of UNFICYP, the peace keeping force in Cyprus, for another six months until July 31, 2022.
In his report on UNFICYP Guterres on Tuesday noted that during the last six months he has seen a further deepening of mistrust both between the sides and among the two communities.
He also encouraged the leaders and their representatives to maintain dialogue and to engage with each other and expressed concern over the lack of interaction between the two communities and urges the leaders to encourage more direct contact and cooperation between them.
According to Guterres, it is also critical that the leaders and their representatives provide the technical committees with the political support that they require to sustain a constructive dialogue and deliver tangible results.
“In the light of the continued contribution of UNFICYP to peace and stability and to the creation of conditions conducive to a political settlement, I recommend that the Security Council extend the mandate of the mission for six months, until 31 July 2022,” Guterres notes in his report.
Public confidence in the possibility of securing a settlement, he says, “continued to fall and debate was focused on the divergent positions of the sides overall, along with a possible appointment of an envoy on Cyprus.”
“An unsettled, internal political landscape created additional challenges, with Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots seeming increasingly skeptical as to the prospects of common ground being found and a future resumption of peace talks occurring,” he adds.
Furthermore, he continues, “certain steps taken, in particular with respect to the fenced-off part of Varosha and the buffer zone, contributed to further deepening mistrust, both between the sides and among the two communities.”
Guterres says that “the mission’s calls for a return to the status quo ante remained unanswered regarding the 12,009 m. concertina wire fence deployed during the previous reporting period in parallel to the southern ceasefire line and located for the most part (85 per cent) inside the buffer zone.”
Referring to Varosha, he notes that “no steps were taken to reverse the actions implemented since the announcement of the partial reopening of the fenced-off town in October 2020, despite the Security Council’s call in resolution 2587 (2021).”
Based on the mission’s observations, the declaration of July 2021 on the lifting of the military status of 3.5 per cent of Varosha did not translate into significant changes on the ground in this area during the reporting period, beyond clearing of vegetation.
“In the areas of Varosha observable by UNFICYP, activities and changes continued, consisting mostly of vegetation clearing, small-scale infrastructure development (e.g., electrical work, road paving, installation of closed -circuit television cameras, streetlights, etc.), and unmanned aerial commercial drone overflights, linked most likely to the monitoring of civilian visits,” he says.
“In relation to the status of Varosha, UNFICYP continues to be guided by relevant Security Council resolutions,” he points out, adding that “accordingly, the mission and the Secretariat repeatedly expressed concern over the developments in the fenced-off part of the town.”
“The United Nations continue to hold the Government of Turkey responsible for the situation in Varosha,” he says.
Guterres also points out that “despite the buffer zone being a no-fly zone for non-United Nations’ assets, airspace violations, notably by unmanned aerial Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) drones, continued to grow during this period.”
He stresses that “education is key to sustainable peace on the island.” To that effect, “despite the request by the Security Council in its resolution 2587 (2021) for the two leaders to “address impediments to peace by conduction of a joint review of school materials, including textbooks”, no steps were taken in this direction by either side.”
According to the UN SG “the absence of progress toward the resumption of formal negotiations continued to create space for new facts on the ground and spawned unilateral actions deemed provocative by the other side.” In this context, UNFICYP faced significant violations or attempts to contravene the mission’s Aide Memoire during the period under review.”
“I note with concern that this trend may result in systematic brinkmanship that could contribute to the already difficult climate between the parties,” he stresses.
According to Guterres, “another example of the contravention of the Aide Memoire was the recent enhancement of surveillance technology on both sides of the buffer zone, which was done without consultation with UNFICYP.”
“I would encourage a dialogue between the parties and my Special Representative to explore the idea of unmanning the ceasefire lines, in return for the potential validation by the UN of surveillance technology that is neither deployed inside the buffer zone nor able to see beyond it,” he says, expressing the belief “that such a measure could significantly contribute to building confidence and holds the potential of deescalating tensions in the buffer zone.”
He also refers to the fact that some incidents in and around the buffer zone “are used politically and amplified through the media, further increasing tensions and mistrust.” “I deplore any attempts to instrumentalize the situation in the buffer zone and call upon the two sides to work constructively with UNFICYP to address violations and incidents and to refrain from increasing tensions further,” he says.
The UN SG notes that he has “repeatedly stressed the importance of the parties refraining from taking unilateral actions that could raise tensions and compromise a return to talks, while also calling upon all parties to engage in dialogue in order to resolve their differences.”
“In that respect, I reiterate my concern over developments in the fenced-off area of Varosha as well as the lack of response to the Security Council’s latest resolution 2587 (2021) calling for a reversal of the actions implemented since the announcement of the partial reopening of the fenced-off town in October 2020. I further recall the Security Council’s decisions related to Varosha, notably resolutions 550 (1984) and 789 (1992), and the importance of adhering fully to those resolutions, underscoring that the position of the United Nations on this matter remains unchanged,” he says.
In a reference to the pandemic which affected both communities, Guterres notes that “the Turkish Cypriot community, with an economy already in distress before the pandemic, saw this year a further significant deterioration of socioeconomic trends.” He expresses concern that, “as a result, the economic gap between the two sides will continue to widen, a situation that is likely to bolster illegal trafficking through the buffer zone in both directions and, ultimately, add an additional impediment to the peace process.”
“I am also concerned that the progressive lifting of restrictions both domestically and at the crossing points did not translate into a significant increase in meaningful interaction between the two communities, who remained largely estranged from each other and focused almost solely on internal issues of their respective side,” he says.
The UN SG warns that “with the passage of time and the risk that the communities drift ever-further apart, supporting people-to people trust-building and fostering cooperation more broadly on issues that affect the daily life of Cypriots is fundamental.”
He urges “the leaders to encourage more direct contact and cooperation between the two communities and to provide concrete support to people-to-people initiatives, as called for by the Security Council and as evidence of their genuine commitment to a solution.”
He recalls that the Security Council “has also repeatedly called upon the leaders to refrain from using rhetoric that might deepen the mistrust between the communities, insisting on the importance of improving the public atmosphere and preparing the communities for a settlement, while also highlighting the importance of peace education.”
“Most of those pillars of reconciliation, unfortunately, remain to be built,” he points out.
Guterres also calls “upon relevant actors in the region to exercise restraint and take constructive approaches to resolving their disputes. It is important that all parties demonstrate their goodwill and make greater efforts to create conditions conducive to a political settlement.”
“Despite the current challenges, I encourage the leaders and their representatives to maintain dialogue and to engage with each other, including through the continuation of the weekly trilateral discussions with my Special Representative/Deputy Special Adviser, as one of the platforms to achieve progress on confidence-building measures and to resolve outstanding problems on the ground that tend to raise tensions,” he stresses.
According to him “it is also critical that the leaders and their representatives provide the technical committees with the political support that they require to sustain a constructive dialogue and deliver tangible results.”
He also notes that “efforts in Cyprus to achieve greater economic and social parity between the two sides and to broaden and deepen economic, cultural and other forms of cooperation remain limited,” expressing the view that “the full implementation of European Council regulation (EC) No. 866/2004 would significantly help to increase the volume of trade and should be pursued with renewed vigor. Increased cross-island trade, together with deeper economic, social, cultural, sporting and other ties and contacts, would promote trust between the communities and help to address the concerns of the Turkish Cypriots regarding isolation.”
He further says that “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 north and concerns relating to “recognition”, adding that “while the 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 obstacle to increased cooperation.”
He regrets that no mechanism for direct military contacts has been able to be established, adding that “I remain convinced that such a mechanism would allow the parties to effectively alleviate day-to-day tensions in and around the buffer zone and appeal to them to continue to explore this proposal with the SRSG, in addition to other potentially significant military confidence-building measures.”
In his report Guterres also expresses the UN’s serious concern about asylum seekers and refugees. “While appreciating the challenging regional context as well as the high volume of arrivals in Cyprus in relation to the size of the population, I must recall the critical importance of full adherence to international legal norms in the handling of asylum seekers and refugees, wherever they may be found,” he points out.
“I would also encourage the continuation of regular interaction between experts of both sides to discuss the issue of irregular migration in meetings facilitated by my mission of good offices and attended by the UNHCR representative on the island, as initiated in May,” he adds.
He also expresses his gratitude to his former Special Representative in Cyprus, Elizabeth Spehar and welcomes the arrival of Colin Stewart.