UNFICYP poised to facilitate dialogue for a mine free Cyprus, UN spokesperson tells CNA

UNFICYP remains poised to facilitate a dialogue between the two sides to develop a road map to a mine free Cyprus, should there be the political will to do so, UN Spokesperson in Cyprus Aleem Siddique has said.

He was invited to comment on the latest Security Council Resolution renewing UNFICYP’s mandate which noted with regret that the sides are withholding access to the remaining minefields in the buffer zone, and that demining in Cyprus must continue. It also called for a rapid agreement on facilitating the recommencement of demining operations and clearance of the remaining minefields.

According to UN records, Siddique told CNA, approximately 0.19 percent of the land in the Republic of Cyprus, an estimated area of 1.7 million square metres of land, is suspected to contain landmines or explosive remnants of war (ERW).

There are three distinct groups, he said, Suspected Hazardous Areas (SHAs) south of the Buffer Zone account for 42 percent of the potentially contaminated land; areas in the Buffer Zone or entering the Buffer Zone account for 41 percent; and areas north of the Buffer Zone account for 17 percent. The majority of the suspected minefields in the north and south closely border the edge of the UN-controlled Buffer Zone. Within the Buffer Zone, the remaining minefields are clearly fenced and marked.

The UN Spokesperson explained that UNFICYP support to humanitarian demining can be split into two phases: 2014 �present and 2004 – 2011. Since July 2016, the UN Mine Action Service supported humanitarian clearance of 28 historical National Guard minefields in the northern Turkish occupied areas of Cyprus. The details of these locations were given by Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades to the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community Mustafa Akinci as part of the package of confidence building measures in May 2015.

UNFICYP also cleared the areas surrounding the two future crossing points in Lefka and Dherynia in 2015 and conducted emergency clearance near Mammari in 2014 and 2015, he said. Between 2004 � 2011, UNFICYP and UNDP cleared over 28,000 mines from the Buffer Zone. This resulted in the declaration of the divided capital Nicosia as ‘Mine Free’ and the return of farmland within the Buffer Zone to its owners, he noted.

However, at present, UNFICYP has not received approval from the sides for access to SHAs to undertake new surveys or clearance, he said, adding that consistent with the recommendations from the Strategic Review, UNFICYP maintains a small technical capacity to provide expertise on explosive hazards, conduct planning for future operations, data management, initial non-technical surveys, when access is permitted and to provide risk awareness training for UNFICYP troops.

UNFICYP remains poised to support further humanitarian mine action when the political situation allows, he remarked.

Asked about obstacles raised in the demining process, Siddique explained that as the majority of minefields are located outside the Buffer Zone, their clearance is contingent upon the specific considerations and sensitivities of the sides.

UNFICYP, he pointed out, remains poised to support surveys, clearance, and ongoing dialogue with the sides regarding an immediate resumption of mine action.

Invited to outline UNFICYP moves to secure an urgent agreement to allow demining operations to begin, the UN Spokesperson said UNFICYP remains poised to facilitate dialogue between the two sides to develop a road map to a mine free Cyprus, should there be the political will to do so.

Support, he explained, includes facilitating the development of phased packages for reciprocal removal and technical oversight. Previously UNFICYP has been uplifted to include a de-mining capability to support clearance where access has been given.

According to figures provided by UNFICYP, 199,783m� of land was released in the northern occupied part of Cyprus since August 2016 to remove the threat of mines and to facilitate confidence building measures, agricultural activities, and livelihood activities.

Seven anti-tank mines were recovered and destroyed and six mortars were removed.

A total of 20,000m� of land was released and unexploded ordnance (UXO) removed for the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) to conduct safe operations and facilitate agricultural activities in Sector 4 while 101,891m� of land was released in the buffer zone through battle area clearance and technical survey to facilitate safe UNFICYP operations and confidence building measures.

Cyprus has been divided since the 1974 Turkish invasion. UNFICYP arrived on the island in March 1964, one of the longest serving UN peace-keeping forces, and continues its presence here. The latest round of UN-backed negotiations aiming to reunite Cyprus under a federal roof, in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, ended inconclusively in July 2017.

Source: Cyprus News Agency