UNFICYP on Thursday voiced concern over the ongoing disruption caused to people on both sides by the decision to temporarily close four crossing points along the buffer zone, but a senior government official said the force has no competence on the issue.
“While the UN supports all effective measures to address any potential public health emergency, it is imperative for the two sides to coordinate closely in order to provide a comprehensive response,” UNFICYP said in a written statement.
“In this respect, the role of the bi-communal Technical Committee on Health is critical and should be utilized to the fullest,” it added.
The opening of the crossings since 2003 has allowed Cypriots freedom of movement across the island, contributing to a return to normal conditions and facilitating contact and interaction for those who wish to avail themselves of the opportunity, the announcement said.
And it concluded: “It remains essential that the sides preserve the dialogue and coordination they have displayed in mutually agreeing to the opening of the crossings which have been an important confidence building measure between both communities for the last 17 years.”
But the head of the press office of the President of the Republic, Victoras Papadopoulos responded that the government’s decision does not fall within UNFICYP’s remit.
“The UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus has no competence over the specific issue. The health of residents in Cyprus exclusively concerns the Republic of Cyprus and UNFICYP has no right to issue such an announcement,” he told Radio Active.
“We would have expected UNFICYP to have issued an announcement in recent days on issues which are within its competence such as the case of Famagusta and the violations carried out by the occupation authorities,” he added.
UNFICYP’s statement came amid media reports that the four checkpoints will remain closed until Monday as conditions have not changed to warrant their re-opening.
This was later confirmed by Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou who said that the ministerial committee had decided on an extension until Monday.
The government had suspended the operation of the Ledra Street, Dherynia, Lefka and Astromeritis checkpoints for one week last Saturday as part of measures to prevent an outbreak of coronavirus.
It said this was a public health and not a political decision and was intended to free resources to step up screening at the other checkpoints which remain open.
No coronavirus cases have been reported on either side of the Green Line.
The closure has divided public opinion. Peace activists protested against the closure last Saturday saying coronavirus was being used as an excuse to obstruct contact between the two communities – a charge denied by the government which says there is no hidden political agenda.
Another group has called for the permanent closure of all the checkpoints because they prop up the occupation regime and will be staging a demonstration at the Ledra Street checkpoint on Friday evening. Supporters of APOEL staged a similar demonstration yesterday.
Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci has also criticised the closure and said yesterday he will be writing to the UN Secretary general to protest what he called a unilateral decision.
Papadopoulos also took issue with the two Akel MEPs who yesterday raised the issue of the closure of the checkpoints with the European Commission asking whether the EU had been asked and whether the closure violated the Green Line regulation.
Papadopoulos said that it was a mistake to transfer to the EU an internal political disagreement, adding that the two MEPs had not even asked to be briefed about the measure by the Cyprus government.