United Nations.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis/CNA
UN Secretary-General António Guterres recommends that the Security Council extends the mandate of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) for six months, until 31 July 2021, in light of the force’s continued contribution to peace and stability and the creation of conditions conducive to a political settlement.
An unofficial copy of Guterres’ report on UNFICYP was circulated in the Security Council. In the report, the Secretary-General says that UNFICYP will continue to monitor the evolving situation and adapt its operations to implement its mandate effectively.
Guterres calls upon opinion leaders on the island, from the political, commercial, religious, artistic or other spheres, to contribute to bringing the communities closer together as a necessary element of building a constituency for peace and laying the foundation for a sustainable solution to the Cyprus problem.
“Regional dynamics notwithstanding, in light of significant societal skepticism and disengagement with regard to the peace process, coupled with an estrangement between the communities that has now run over three generations, redoubled efforts are required for Cypriots to re-engage for peace and bridge the divide between them. Conversely, acts that are aimed at provoking the other community or inciting hatred need to be addressed and clearly denounced by political and other leaders” he notes.
Moreover, he notes that the Security Council has 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.
“Forty-five years after the ceasefire and de facto division of Cyprus, most of those pillars of reconciliation, unfortunately, remain to be built. Consequently, I echo once more the calls of the Council in this regard as well as its support for greater civic engagement and trustbuilding across the divide. I also urge the leaders to more explicitly encourage contact and cooperation between the two communities and to provide direct support to people-to-people initiatives, as evidence of their genuine commitment to a solution” he adds.
As in his Good Offices Mission report, António Guterres refers extensively to the pandemic in his report on UNFICYP. “In Cyprus, COVID-19 continued to have profound negative repercussions for the two communities, both in terms of health and socio-economically. The unprecedented dimension of the threat posed by the pandemic has, notably, resulted in a further separation of the communities while efforts to identify acceptable ways to jointly tackle the virus and its multiple effects on the lives of Cypriots have been limited. As mentioned in my previous report, there are existing mechanisms, mostly underutilized, that could precisely address these issues if they received sufficient political support” he says.
The UN chief calls on leaders to enhance their support for the technical committees and, in the specific context of COVID-19, look particularly at the committees focussing on health, economic and commercial matters, crisis management, gender and humanitarian affairs and their potential role in contributing to the alleviation of the effects of the pandemic island-wide.
Regarding the decisions by both sides to restrict passage at crossing points, which continued to be made without consultation with the other community, Guterres says that “while mindful of the need to put public health and safety first, I encourage the leaders to discuss and harmonize the protocols governing crossings and to mutually agree on the re-opening of the remaining crossing points as soon as feasible.”
Moreover, the Secretary-General notes that the absence of a viable peace process since July 2017 has resulted in more and more substantial changes on the ground. “This, in turn, has heightened tensions between the sides, moving the parties further apart and possibly affecting the efforts towards an overall sustainable solution. As outlined in the principles of my Action for Peacekeeping initiative, there is a clear complementarity between peacekeeping and peacemaking, and therefore the actions of both missions on the ground shall continue to be mutually reinforcing” he adds.
Developments in Varosha are of concern, Guterres goes on, saying that they are representative of the unsustainability of the continuing hiatus in the peace talks. “During the reporting period, I and my representatives have stressed repeatedly that the position of the United Nations on Varosha remains unchanged and is guided by relevant Security Council resolutions. I have emphasized the importance of no unilateral actions being taken that could raise tensions on the island and compromise a return to talks, while also calling on all parties to engage in dialogue in order to resolve their differences” he adds.
Guterres says that he continues to deplore the restrictions on the freedom of movement of UNFICYP imposed in, inter alia, Varosha and Strovilia, and requests that the mission’s ability to patrol and implement its mandated activities be fully restored.
He also deplores the frequent disregard shown by the sides towards the mandated authority of UNFICYP, especially when dealing with security-related issues in and around the buffer zone. “In addition to the 1989 Unmanning Agreement, the mission’s aide-memoire, as repeatedly highlighted by the Council, is the document of reference that describes the arrangements put in place by UNFICYP to supervise the ceasefire, contribute to the maintenance of law and order and contribute to a return to normal conditions. I would like to echo the clear stance of the Council and urge all parties to abide by the aide-memoire, inter alia by respecting the no-fly zone status of the buffer zone and the UNFICYP delineation of the ceasefire lines, as well as refraining from unauthorized constructions, including prefabricated concrete firing positions, and other unauthorized military or civilian activity” he says.
The UN Secretary-General says that tensions around Cyprus, particularly in relation to hydrocarbon exploration, continued during the reporting period and reiterates his call for serious efforts to avoid any further escalation and to defuse tensions.
Moreover, he reiterates the importance of confidence-building measures for Cyprus, particularly given the current difficult climate. “In that vein, I encourage the sides to put forward proposals and ideas in good faith for possible new measures, or to review past proposals, so that discussions and progress can be further pursued. Given the tense regional environment and its impact on Cyprus, I also call upon relevant actors in the region to pursue restraint, explore confidence-building measures and take constructive approaches to resolve their disputes and to the Cyprus problem. It is important that the parties demonstrate their good will and make greater efforts to create conditions conducive to a successful negotiation process” he says.
Antonio Guterres also says that UNFICYP records all observed violations and engages with the sides to resolve issues that arise in and around the buffer zone, with a view to maintaining calm and preventing escalation. However, he notes, some incidents are utilized politically and amplified through the media, further increasing tension and mistrust. “I deplore any attempts to instrumentalize the situation in the buffer zone and call upon the sides to work constructively with UNFICYP to address violations and incidents and to refrain from further increasing tensions” he adds.
The UN chief observes 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 and calls for the full implementation of the Green Line Regulation. “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 says.
Referring anew to the challenges and obstacles linked to the status of the regime in the northern-occupied part of Cyprus and concerns relating to its “recognition” the UN Secretary-General says that “while 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. As the sides explore further opportunities for confidence-building and cooperation, I urge them to devise creative ways of overcoming obstacles with a view to achieving meaningful progress and delivering tangible benefits to their communities. The United Nations remains fully committed to providing them with the facilitation and support necessary.”
Regarding the Security Council’s request to see the establishment of a military contact mechanism, he expresses hope that, beyond general statements, concrete action can now be taken following the tabling by his Special Representative of a proposal on 1 May 2020 and the conclusion of the recent electoral process in the north. “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 would constitute an important military confidence-building measure. I urge the parties to work with my Special Representative to establish the mechanism, thereby also meeting the expectations of the Security Council” he adds.
Guterres says finally that the situation of asylum seekers and refugees across the island continued to considerably deteriorate during the reporting period and is of serious concern to the United Nations. “In the absence of a dedicated bicommunal mechanism to deal with the issue across the divide, I would also suggest that the Joint Contact Room be used to share information on migrations and asylum seekers” he concludes.