Strategic review of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (S/2017/1008)

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I. Introduction

  1. The present report is submitted pursuant to Security Council resolution 2369 (2017), in 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 optimally configured to implement its existing mandate, based exclusively on a rigorous evidence-based assessment of the impact of UNFICYP activities.

  2. In line with the request of the Security Council, the review focused on an assessment of the key functions, tasks, and activities of UNFICYP, and their respective impact. At the same time, the review assessed the Force’s existing capacity and capabilities in an effort to ensure that it would be optimally configured to fulfil its mandated tasks.

II. Methodology

  1. The strategic review was led by an external expert, Wolfgang Weisbrod-Weber, former Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara.

Mr. Weisbrod-Weber was supported by a review team consisting of representatives from the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations, Field Support, Political Affairs and Safety and Security of the Secretariat, as well as staff of UNFICYP.

  1. The UNFICYP review process was conducted in three stages. First, consultations were undertaken, at both Headquarters and UNFICYP, with relevant stakeholders, including representatives of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities and of the Member States concerned, on the proposed objectives, methodology and timeline of the strategic review. In parallel, the review team, with support from UNFICYP, conducted a desk review of relevant background documents aimed at identifying the Force’s key functions, tasks and activities, and the capacities and capabilities available for their implementation.

  2. During the second stage, a team led by Mr. Weisbrod-Weber travelled to Cyprus from 2 to 7 November 2017 to assess the impact of the activities performed by UNFICYP and develop recommendations on how the Force could be reconfigured in order to implement its mandated tasks more effectively and efficiently. To ensure a rigorous evidence-based assessment, the review team conducted extensive consultations with key interlocutors, including relevant authorities on both sides of the island, members of UNFICYP, the good offices mission of the Secretary-General and the United Nations country team in Cyprus, as well as the Commanders of the National Guard and the Turkish Cypriot security forces. Consultations were also conducted with members of the diplomatic community and civil society, and included a round-table discussion with women from across the island. The team also conducted field visits to all three sectors of the Force’s area of operations. During the third and final stage, the report of the review team was assessed and evaluated by members of the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations, Field Services, Political Affairs and Safety and Security, who supplemented it with their comments and observations.

III. Background

  1. 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 Force remains the same, its responsibilities evolved, following the hostilities of 1974, to include supervising the ceasefire lines, maintaining a buffer zone and facilitating intercommunal contacts.

  2. The Security Council, in its resolution 1568 (2004), approved the amended concept of operations and force level of UNFICYP outlined in the report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations operation in Cyprus dated 24 September 2004 (S/2004/756). That led to an authorized strength of 860 troops, including up to 40 military observers and liaison officers, and 69 police officers. Subsequently, the Security Council, in its resolution 2263 (2016), decided to increase the Force’s force level from 860 to 888. The increase was authorized in response to a recommendatio n in the report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations operation in Cyprus dated 6 January 2016 (S/2016/11) that was based on enhanced planning efforts in UNFICYP in anticipation of a possible settlement agreement and the opening of two new crossing points. In addition to its military and police components, UNFICYP comprises a civil affairs component as well as mission support elements.

Current situation

  1. During its visit to Cyprus, the review team found that the situation in the UNFICYP area of operations remains calm. The number and type of military incidents have been relatively constant over the past 10 years, and no violent military incident has been reported since 1996. Nevertheless, challenges remain that have the potential to escalate tensions, negatively affect a resumption of the talks and contribute to a further deterioration in the relationship between the sides. Among those challenges is the continued positioning of the opposing forces (i.e., the Greek Cypriot National Guard and the Turkish forces and Turkish Cypriot security forces) along respective ceasefire lines, in some cases divided by only a few metres.

  2. Between 1 January and 31 October 2017, 167 military violations of the status quo were recorded in the buffer zone, as were another 147 violations of the maritime security line, usually in the form of overmanning, construction violations involving the building or improving of positions along the ceasefire lines and the forward movement of troops into the buffer zone. That represents an increase in violations, including those of the maritime security line, of 5 per cent compared with 2016, and a decrease of 5 per cent compared with 2007, reflecting a relatively constant level and severity of military incidents. Despite the relative calm, more than a thousand armed soldiers deployed along the ceasefire lines on either side of the buffer zone face each other every day, and thousands more are scattered across the island. Cases of ill-discipline, consisting mostly of provocations along the ceasefire lines, occur frequently, as do occasional military training exercises close to the ceasefire lines, including the movement of armoured vehicles and heavy weapons. There has also been no genuine effort by the sides to resolve the long-standing military violations as described in my regular reports on UNFICYP.

  3. That being said, the review team found that tensions in the buffer zone mainly relate to civilian activity. UNFICYP now records far higher numbers of civilian incidents than military violations: on average, 3,180 civilian incidents each year have been recorded in the past decade, representing 85 per cent of all unauthorized activities recorded by UNFICYP. Since the demining of the buffer zone and the opening of crossings between the northern and southern parts of the island in 2003, large numbers of Cypriots have sought to use land in the buffer zone for farming or other purposes. UNFICYP estimates that a high proportion of arable land in the buffer zone is currently cultivated by members of both communities, and about 20 per cent of that land is being farmed without the authorization of their owners. Even land closest to the positions of the Turkish forces, where, for security reasons, UNFICYP has consistently discouraged civilian activities, is now farmed.

  4. As Cypriots seek to protect their rights to farm their land in the buffer zone, tensions often arise between communities, between civilian authorities and potentially with the opposing forces. For example, UNFICYP has received 43 applications to farm 117 plots of land in the Potamia and Pyroi area that are already being farmed by others. A similar situation emerged in Katokopia, where Greek Cypriots filed applications for permits to farm their land within 200 metres of the Turkish forces ceasefire line.

  5. As the only bicommunal village in the buffer zone, Pyla creates numerous opportunities for tension, ranging from unauthorized casinos to drug trafficking and other serious crimes. The review team found that while the Turkish Cypriot police deal with criminal activities involving Turkish Cypriots and the Cyprus police deal with those involving Greek Cypriots, most criminal activities and other incidents and tensions are intercommunal, requiring the intervention and support of UNFICYP police to resolve any ensuing conflicts.

  6. Civilian demonstrations, though mostly peaceful, may nevertheless turn violent, including when activists attempt to provoke reactions from the other side. Most recently, in July 2017, nationalist demonstrators from both sides faced each other at the Ledra Street crossing point in Nicosia, with those in the south burning flags, throwing projectiles and beginning to dismantle the fences that restrict access to th e buffer zone. Timely liaison with the Force and the visible presence of UNFICYP military forces ensured that the situation was brought under control by the Cyprus police.

  7. With regard to the negotiations towards a settlement, the two sides remain in a “period of reflection”. While the review team focused on its assigned task, that is, the review of UNFICYP, interlocutors on both sides of the island took the opportunity to note that talks could resume at an appropriate time after the upcoming 2018 elections and under appropriate circumstances. The current status of the talks inevitably creates opportunities for the hardening of positions and mistrust, making it all the more important for UNFICYP to maintain stability and help create conditions conducive to a political settlement.