IS IT TIME TO LEAVE?
ARE United Nations troops in Cyprus keeping the peace or just enjoying an extended “holiday”?
Nearly 35 years after the first UN soldiers were sent in amid intercommunal violence, it’s a question that has long been posed about what was once said to have been dubbed the “Volvo posting” by Swedish peacekeepers for the “easy money” it was said to represent.
The debate has resurfaced recently — with critics pointing to the international body’s failure to make good on former leader Kofi Annan’s 2004 call for the isolation of Turkish Cypriots to be ended, and asking whether it needs “boots on the ground” to facilitate peace talks.
Now suggestions are emerging that the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (Unficyp) be remodelled to reflect current conditions on the island — and money saved on troop costs ploughed into reconciliation instead.
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Kudret Özersay fired an initial salvo in the latest discussions, telling a conference at London’s Chatham House earlier this year that Unficyp should be abolished because it had “turned into a mere postal service”.
Last month it was revealed that, while at September’s UN General Assembly session in New York, he had formally requested relocation of the General Stefanik camp, next to Gazimağusa’s Eastern Mediterranean University (EMU).
Dr Özersay said the camp, which hosts helicopter traffic, was no longer appropriate in the middle of what has become a busy student and residential area since the base was set up in 1964 — and his concerns are being backed by local residents in a petition.
But Alpay Durduran, of the New Cyprus Party, chipped in last week, blasting what he called an attempt “by some circles” to discredit the UN “by labelling them as useless”.
In a sideswipe at Dr Özersay, he claimed the Turkish Cypriot side had been put in “a very bad position before the eyes of the world” by asking Unficyp to relocate from Gazimağusa and “trying to get hold of this area”, and blamed “obstinate nationalistic attitudes”.
Professor Ahmet Sözen, political science and international relations lecturer at Eastern Mediterranean University, said there was “of course” controversy over the UN’s role in Cyprus — “whether they are needed, productive, protecting peace or even contributing to the division of the island”.
He told Cyprus Today: “The issue of the UN arouses polarised viewpoints within our community, with one side saying they should leave entirely, whilst the opposing view is that the UN is needed in contributing to a comprehensive solution.
“My personal take, is that although there are problems with the UN and they aren’t the most efficient . . . at peacekeeping, the world would not be better without the UN.”
Dr Sözen commented that Unficyp had been mandated in 1964 for “strictly peacekeeping purposes”. UNFICYP threw a reception hosted by the mission’s commander, Elizabeth Spehar, in the buffer zone to mark October 24’s UN Day — the “birthday” of the UN charter.
In a message for the occasion, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the body “embodies the hopes, dreams and aspirations of ‘we the peoples’”.
Unficyp is one of the UN’s longest-running peace missions, with 850-plus troops and more than 60 civilian police now stationed on the island.
The force supervises the 180km “ceasfire line” and has a budget for the current year, from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019, of $55,152,000.
Despite repeated attempts, Cyprus Today was unable to reach a spokesman to counter criticism of the force’s role.
Unficyp’s website says its work is based on four components: the military, UN Police, the Civil Affairs Branch and the administration which supports all activities. In all, it has almost 1,100 personnel.
“So, are they keeping the peace today? Yes, to a certain extent.
“Are they, however, peace building? This is problematic. UN peace forces have restrictions concerning peace building. If I were the secretary-general, I would re-evaluate the mandate of UN
The 1964 mandate of Unficyp, set out in UN Security Council resolution 186 (1964) after intercommunal fighting and a constitutional crisis, recommended the establishment of the force to “prevent a recurrence of fighting; contribute to the maintenance and restoration of law and order; [and] contribute to a return to normal conditions”.
Since 1964, more than 180 UN personnel have died while serving with the force.
Mr Guterres on Thursday announced the appointment of Major General Cheryl Pearce of Australia as new Unficyp Force Commander, replacing Major General Mohammad Humayun Kabir of Bangladesh, who completed his two-year assignment on October 6.
peacekeeping forces, reduce forces and switch the budget to peace-building and reconciliation.
“The mandate of 1964 needs to be re-adapted to today’s conditions and needs.”
Dr Sözen added that Turkish Cypriots were “disa UN for not backing that their “yes” vote erendum had “undo keep [them] subject report being “the fir to have been endor Council”.
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