UN Secretary General recommends minor reductions in UNFICYP

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has recommended to maintain the preventive and deterrence capabilities of the United Nations Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), with minor reductions, and, in parallel, expanding its observation, liaison and engagement capabilities, in his report on the strategic review of UNFICYP, an unofficial copy of which was handed over on Monday afternoon to the UN Security Council members.

Guterres noted that “UNFICYP will thus remain, for the time being, an infantry-based peacekeeping operation, but with a strengthened observation and liaison component. This represents a further step in the direction already taken after the review of UNFICYP of 2004.”

“It will make the Mission more effective in maintaining calm in the buffer zone and preventing tensions from escalating, thus helping to create conditions conducive to a resumption of settlement talks. At the same time, the efficiencies identified by the review team will, once fully implemented, allow for measurable savings in the UNFICYP budget,” the UNSG said in his observations and recommendations.

The report has been submitted pursuant to Security Council resolution 2369 (2017), by which the Council requested a strategic review of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) “focused on findings and recommendations for how UNFICYP should be configured to implement its existing mandate, based exclusively on rigorous evidence based assessment of the impact of UNFICYP activities.”

According to the UNSG, the review team, based on the documentation provided and the evidence obtained during the review process, including through exchanges with UNFICYP staff as well as with relevant stakeholders, found that UNFICYP operates in an environment characterised by constant but contained military incidents along the cease-fire lines, combined with a vastly increased level of civilian activity in the buffer zone.

As it is noted, containment of military incidents is attributed by most interlocutors with whom the review team engaged, to the preventive and deterrent role of UNFICYP. The ability of UNFICYP to resolve any such incidents quickly and prevent them from escalating is especially valued since the two sides have no direct contact with each other and rely on the Mission to clear up misunderstandings and pass on messages, the report noted.

“I therefore concur with the recommendation of the review team that the preventive and deterrent role of UNFICYP should be maintained for the time being. While the actual impact of such a role is very difficult to ascertain, the risk associated with any drastic reduction of the Force is not justified under present circumstances,” Guterres said.

He also took note that “the review team has identified an opportunity for a limited reduction in the military strength of the Mission, mainly with respect to the military support elements. In line with the findings of the review team as detailed in this report, I therefore recommend that the actual military strength of UNFICYP be reduced to 802 troops.”

“This need not be reflected in a reduction of the authorised strength; in fact, if the authorised strength were to remain at 860, it would allow some flexibility to increase deployment should the need arise, for example in support of eventually resumed settlement talks,” he added.

He also said that “of the authorised military strength of 888 personnel, 28 positions were established under Security Council resolution 2263 of January 2016, to support military planning efforts in anticipation of a possible settlement. With planning for a settlement no longer requiring extensive mission resources, the review team recommends that 20 of these positions be repatriated. The remaining eight positions need to be retained for monitoring requirements at the Deryneia/Derynia and Lefka-Aplici/Lefke-AphA crossing points, which are expected to be opened in the coming months.”

Guterres noted that “during the visit of the review team, UNFICYP received assurances, at the highest political level of the Republic of Cyprus, that its authority to regulate civilian activities in the buffer zone is recognised. The officials also committed to support the Missions efforts to ensure that the permit system works effectively and that the authority of UNFICYP to manage civilian activity in the buffer zone is respected.”

Furthermore, he noted that the vastly increased level of civilian activity in the buffer zone has already led to an increase in situations with potentially serious security implications, for example when Cypriots farm land in the buffer zone that they do not own or rent from others, especially if the actual owners are from the other community, or when farming takes place too close to Turkish forces ceasefire line. The work of UNFICYP to resolve such situations is valuable and de facto recognised as such by the two sides, but hindered by challenges to the Missions authority in the buffer zone.

Guterres said that “since incidents in the buffer zone have increased and are likely to continue to do so in the future, I support the review teams recommendation that UNFICYPs capability for liaison and engagement be strengthened across all components to keep stability and calm, and thus contribute effectively to conditions conducive to a resumption of settlement talks.”

He also noted that an expansion of the observation, liaison and engagement of UNFICYP requires, for its success, the cooperation of the two sides. “In its exchanges with the authorities, the review team found that the political will for this cooperation exists on both sides, which is highly appreciated. In the long run, I hope that the two sides will come together to resolve some of their differences directly; a good example of this exists already in the Joint Communication Room which brings police officers and experts from the two sides directly together, under UNFICYP auspices, to work on criminal matters.”

“In conclusion, I recommend maintaining the preventive and deterrence capabilities of UNFICYP, with minor reductions, and, in parallel, expanding its observation, liaison and engagement capabilities. UNFICYP will thus remain, for the time being, an infantry-based peacekeeping operation, but with a strengthened observation and liaison component,” the UNSG said.

He noted that “this represents a further step in the direction already taken after the review of UNFICYP of 2004. It will make the Mission more effective in maintaining calm in the buffer zone and preventing tensions from escalating, thus helping to create conditions conducive to a resumption of settlement talks. At the same time, the efficiencies identified by the review team will, once fully implemented, allow for measurable savings in the UNFICYP budget.”

UNFICYP was established by Security Council resolution 186 (1964), with a mandate “to prevent a recurrence of fighting and, as necessary, to contribute to the maintenance and restoration of law and order and a return to normal conditions”. While the mandate of the Mission remains the same to date, its responsibilities evolved following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, to include supervising the ceasefire lines, maintaining a buffer zone, and facilitating inter-communal contacts.

Source: Cyprus News Agency