Since 1964, the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) has observed and patrolled the internationally administrated buffer zone that divides the island’s predominantly ethnically Greek south and an ethnically Turkish north. The mission, led by Lisa Buttenheim, also monitors the maintenance of the military status quo, and facilitates the provision of essential services for Cypriots.
In August 2014, Major General Kristin Lund was appointed as UNFICYP Force Commander, the first woman to command a UN peacekeeping force. Her appointment also makes UNFICYP the first UN peacekeeping operation with an all-female leadership. Political dialogue between the parties has been accompanied since 2008 by the Special Adviser on Cyprus, who is facilitating talks between the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders and liaises with other stakeholders, including Greece, Turkey and the European Union. In August 2014, Espen Barth Eide was appointed as Special Adviser.
The situation along the ceasefire line remained calm throughout 2013-14, although both sides reportedly committed violations of the military status quo, including by establishing military positions in the buffer zone. Though UNFICYP maintains that its relations with both opposing forces are positive, the mission has experienced occasional challenges to its authority. In the village of Strovilia, Turkish forces have prevented the mission from carrying out its routine patrols since June 2014. In old town Nicosia, where the buffer zone is the narrowest, instances of ill discipline by both sides reportedly also have posed challenges to UNFICYP patrols.
UN de-mining activities within the buffer zone continued to be restricted, with both sides preventing access to the four known mined areas. In April 2014, however, UNFICYP announced an agreement to clear two areas where mines had been displaced into the buffer zone by flooding. UNFICYP received de-mining support in the form of a 21-strong Cambodian unit from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon to carry out the project.
Civilian activities, such as unauthorized construction and hunting, also presented continued challenges to the buffer zone’s security situation. To reduce these incidences, UNFICYP liaised with authorities and individuals to obtain timely information on civilian projects in the buffer zone. To further promote these activities, the mission issued more than 700 permits for civilian activities and approved 20 construction projects. The mission also aims to foster bi-communal cooperation and reconciliation through the support of sporting, cultural, educational and religious activities. The mission also continues to provide humanitarian support, including weekly delivery of humanitarian assistance, to 345 Greek Cypriots and 116 Maronites residing in the island’s north.
UNFICYP police continues to engage with police services from both sides to assist in and facilitate investigations, including through the Joint Communications Room and the Committee on Crime and Criminal Matters, both of which aim to enhance cooperation between the two sides. The mission also supports the bi-communal Committee on Missing Persons, which exhumes, identifies and returns the remains of missing persons to their families. Turkey, which thus far has limited the Committee’s access to military sites in the north, in November 2013 granted access to a fenced military area to allow for excavations. In 2014, the Committee identified 157 missing persons, the highest number since its establishment in 1981, though it reports that “half of all missing persons have yet to be located and more than 70 per cent have yet to be identified”.
Following a hiatus of nearly two years, reunification talks officially resumed in February 2014, with the agreement on a joint communiqué outlining the respective sides’ positions. In September, Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades, who was elected in early 2013, and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu agreed to move to more structured and more frequent, bi-monthly negotiations as a next step. However, the negotiations broke down in September, following a disagreement over Turkey’s decision to conduct offshore seismic surveys in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone. The Greek Cypriot side viewed these efforts as attempts to undermine its right to exploit gas and oil reserves.
The political momentum following the resumption of talks in early 2014 accompanied by a new Special Adviser was not sufficient to keep the process on track. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has maintained focus on the dialogue process by urging the parties to resume negotiations, but to little avail. While UNFICYP continues to play an important role in preserving the status quo in Cyprus, the mission has not achieved progress on military confidence-building measures, and Greek and Turkish Cypriot military officials continue to lack a direct line of communication. Well into its fiftieth year of operation, council members may revive discussions on a mandate review for UNFICYP in the near future. What effect any changes to the mission’s mandate may have on the settlement of political and territorial questions in Cyprus remains to be seen.