Prospects for reaching common ground on the Cyprus peace process “remain uncertain”, UNSG says in Good Offices report

Prospects for reaching common ground on the Cyprus peace process “remain uncertain” for the time being, says UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, according to an advance copy of the report on his Mission of Good Offices in Cyprus, reiterating that, demonstration of political will and flexibility “remains of paramount importance” for the future of the process. He notes that, a United Nations envoy to lead engagement with the parties could provide critical support and that, the UN’s engagement with the sides and the guarantor powers continues in this regard.

In the report, which is focused on developments from 15 June 2022 to 12 December 2022, Guterres notes that, the positions of the two sides “remain far apart” and both sides maintain their opposing views about the way forward. In the absence of constructive or harmonized messages from the two leaders that could resonate with both communities, the climate between the two sides and vis-à-vis the United Nations “has deteriorated”, he adds.

He notes, however, that, given the continuing absence of full-fledged negotiations, the leaders’ presence at the 7 December reception in Nicosia “sent a positive signal to the broader public.”

“As we continue to support the sides in seeking common ground, the parties’ flexibility, political will and forward-looking view in the best interests of Cypriots will be of paramount importance”, he said.

The reporting period, he adds, began with a renewed commitment from the sides to move forward energetically with measures that would build trust between the sides, as a means of creating conditions conducive for eventual settlement talks. “Beginning in October, however, hardening demands related to the status of the north and political rhetoric in the south in the context of electoral campaigning increased perceived psychological barriers to cooperation”, the report said.

The UNSG notes that, the political landscape has been further complicated by disputes and statements regarding areas in and adjacent to the buffer zone and in Varosha, including over civilian activities, while, the situation on the island is compounded by ongoing tensions in the eastern Mediterranean region, “including with respect to competing maritime zone claims and a worsening of relations” between guarantor powers Greece and Turkey.

On the talk prospects and the appointment of an UN special envoy, Guterres notes that, “in the continued absence of substantive dialogue on the Cyprus issue between the two sides and given the prevailing socio-economic and political climate, prospects for reaching common ground on the Cyprus peace process remain uncertain for the time being”.

As the views on the role and mandate of an envoy continue to differ, he adds, no agreement has yet been found regarding the modalities for the appointment of a United Nations envoy, “who could explore ways to reach common ground towards resuming negotiations for a lasting settlement in Cyprus.” In this respect, a United Nations envoy to lead engagement with the parties could provide critical support, he says, adding that the UN’s engagement with the sides and the guarantor powers continues in this regard.

Guterres reiterates “that the future of the process remains in the hands of the parties, and their demonstration of political will and flexibility remains of paramount importance as we continue to support them in seeking common ground.”

The report also refers to the need for confidence-building measures (CBMs) with Guterres encouraging the two leaders and their representatives “to engage in a constructive dialogue and urge them to agree to and implement mutually acceptable confidence-building measures that can contribute to a more conducive environment for settlement.”

The proposals put forward by the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot leaders, he adds, cover areas of potential benefit to both sides and may in turn contribute to the improved stability of the broader eastern Mediterranean region. “I urge the two leaders to engage in discussions on the proposals in the spirit of building trust and finding common ground for the benefit of all”, he said.

The UNSG refers extensively to the activities of the Technical Committees, while he describes as “highly regrettable” the suspension by the Turkish Cypriots of their participation in the peace education project “Imagine” under the auspices of the Technical Committee on Education.

The fact that there has been only one meeting of the Technical Committee on Humanitarian Affairs since October 2021 and “no substantive meetings” of the Technical Committee on Education since 2 July 2021 “is disappointing”, Guterres notes, while, the delay in the projects initiated by the Technical Committee on Culture “is also regrettable.”

The UNSG also said that, the lack of progress on creating an agreed process to respond in a coordinated fashion to cross-island crisis situations such as wildfires “should be addressed urgently.”

“In view of the many pressing issues that would benefit from intra-island cooperation, the technical committees remain underutilized overall”, he said.

Guterres also notes, that despite the worsening atmosphere, the continued absence of full-fledged negotiations and limited space for engagement on substantive issues in the peace talks, United Nations senior officials have continued to engage with the two sides and the guarantor powers with a view to finding common ground towards negotiations.

The report also encloses written updates by President of the Republic, Nicos Anastasiades, and Turkish Cypriot leader, Ersin Tatar.

President Anastasiades gives an extensive account of the efforts of the Greek Cypriot side to resolve the Cyprus problem, and specifically, he refers, among other things, to the Turkish Cypriot leader’s rejection of the package of “bold” CBMs, which he had submitted and Tatar’s counter-proposal in July of 2022, of CBMs “that unfortunately reflect the position of the Turkish side for a “two-state” solution”.

He also refers to the renewed efforts “in pursuit of the international upgrading of the secessionist entity, as seen in the recent decision by the Organisation of Turkic States to amend its statute in order to permit the accession of entities and to grant the status of observer to the illegal secessionist entity in the occupied part of Cyprus.” This decision is in contrast to international law and relevant UN Security Council Resolutions, he adds.

The President also refers to further provocative actions and continuing threats by Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot side, including “the illegal actions and announcements on further violations in Varosha”, but also “repeated attempts of incursion into the buffer zone in a number of hotspots along the Turkish Forces ceasefire line”.

Tatar, in his own note points to his “cooperation proposals” and insists that that their consent to UNFICYP’s operations in the occupied territories must be sought “and a legal framework must be reached upon as a matter of urgency.” On the issue of the fenced area of Varosha, in the occupied part of Famagusta, Tatar said that, in this reporting period, the Greek Cypriot applications to the immovable property commission, has increased to 470.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third. Repeated rounds of UN-led peace talks have so far failed to yield results. The latest round of negotiations, in July 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana ended inconclusively.

UN Security Council resolution 550 (1984) considers any attempts to settle any part of Varosha by people other than its inhabitants as inadmissible and calls for the transfer of this area to the administration of the UN. UN Security Council resolution 789 (1992) also urges that with a view to the implementation of resolution 550 (1984), the area at present under the control of the United Nations Peace-keeping Force in Cyprus be extended to include Varosha.

The Turkish Cypriot leadership announced in July 2021 a partial lifting of the military status in Varosha. A few months earlier, on October 8, 2020, the Turkish side opened part of the fenced area of Varosha, following an announcement made in Ankara on October 6. Tatar recently announced that the whole of the fenced area would gradually be opened. The UN Security Council called for the reversal of this course of action, while the UN Secretary General, in his latest report on his mission of good offices in Cyprus, reiterated his concern over developments in the fenced-off area, noting that the position of the UN on Varosha remains unchanged. The EU also expressed grave concern.

Source: Cyprus News Agency