On Thursday, the UN (United Nations) said that it would block the construction of a road commissioned by the authorities in occupied Cyprus because it would encroach on the UN-controlled buffer zone which divides the island. The following morning, UN peacekeepers were reportedly assaulted by personnel from occupied Cyprus.
The so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) is not internationally recognized as a legitimate state by any country other than Turkey. Northern Cyprus declared independence in 1983, after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974.
Tensions persist between the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus and the occupied northern portion of the island. The UN peacekeeping force, known as UNFICYP, has a permanent presence on the island to prevent a conflict from reigniting.
— UN Cyprus (@UN_CYPRUS) August 18, 2023
UN peacekeepers assaulted by personnel from occupied Cyrpus
“The United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) condemns the assaults against UN peacekeepers and damage to UN vehicles by personnel from the Turkish Cypriot side this morning,” read a statement issued by the UN on Friday.
“The incident took place inside the buffer zone near Pyla/Pile as UN peacekeepers blocked unauthorized construction work in the area,” the press release further explained. “Threats to the safety of UN peacekeepers and damage to UN property are unacceptable and constitute a serious crime under international law which will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
“UNFICYP calls on the Turkish Cypriot side to respect the mission’s mandated authority inside the UN buffer zone, refrain from any actions that could escalate tensions further and to withdraw all personnel and machinery from the UN buffer zone immediately,” the UN statement contained.
Footage that has emerged from the incident shows a bulldozer damaging UN cars and dismantling a barbed wire fence.
Diplomatic responses by Greece and the EU
Geek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis telephoned his Greek Cypriot counterpart President Nikos Christodos to express his disapproval of the assault conducted by personnel from occupied Cyprus against members of the UN peacekeeping force.
Meanwhile, the Greek foreign ministry issued a statement reiterating the prime minister’s position. “We unequivocally condemn today’s unacceptable assault by Turkish Cypriots against members of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), who attempted to block unauthorized road construction works inside the buffer zone near Pyla,” the statement read.
“The attempt to create faits accomplis within the buffer zone constitutes a flagrant violation of the status quo, while the assault on members of a UN peacekeeping force is an act of contempt for International Law,” it continued.
The EU also issued a condemnation of the events that transpired today. “The European Union condemns the assault on United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) peacekeepers by personnel from the Turkish Cypriot side this morning. We call on the Turkish Cypriot side to fully respect the mission’s mandated authority inside the UN buffer zone,” said Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
“The recent unilateral steps with regard to the unauthorized construction work by the Turkish Cypriot side inside the UN buffer zone near Pyla/Pile, are a violation of the status quo that leads to escalation,” Borrell’s statement added.
The EU condemns the assault on UNFICYP @UN_CYPRUS by personnel from the Turkish Cypriot side. We call on Turkish Cypriot side to respect the mission’s mandated authority in the UN buffer zone &resumption of work on agreeable way forward in the Pyla/Pile area. I called FM @ckombos
— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) August 18, 2023
Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the UN said that the world body would “block or frustrate construction of the road by nonviolent means.” The UN’s main concern is that the construction of the road would unsettle the status quo and could lead to an escalation in tensions between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots.
Construction commenced in the early hours of Thursday on a roadway intended to link the village of Arsos in the northern region occupied by Turkish Cypriots with the ethnically mixed Greek Cypriot-Turkish Cypriot village of Pyla. This village is situated just to the south of the buffer zone and falls within the jurisdiction of the Greek Cypriot south, where the internationally recognized government of the island holds its seat.
The construction of the road aims to provide Turkish Cypriots with a direct route to Pyla, bypassing a checkpoint located near the periphery of a British military base. The UK has maintained two Sovereign Base Areas (SBA) at Akrotiri and Dhekelia in Cyprus since the end of colonial rule in 1960.
Greek Cypriots view this road development as a potentially strategic move in a delicate location along the 180-kilometer (120-mile) expanse of the buffer zone. Greek Cypriot government spokesman Constantinos Letymbiotis has said that the construction of the road is “an attempt at a very serious violation of the status quo.”