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    Guterres in UNFICYP report: Lack of common ground between parties for peace talks

    As long as the two communities remain separate and rely on divisive narratives to articulate their understanding of the other, it will be extremely difficult to achieve reconciliation

    “Sustainable peace in Cyprus can only be based on the basis of a stable reconciliation. As long as the two communities remain separate and rely on divisive narratives to articulate their understanding of the other, it will be extremely difficult to achieve such a reconciliation,” notes UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, according to the unofficial document of his UNFICYP report He identifies a rise in harsh rhetoric from both sides and a weakening of prospects for a solution.

    The SG is expected to recommend to the Security Council that the mandate of the mission be extended for six months, until 31 July 2023.

    The UNFICYP report is expected to be released in the coming days. In two to three days, according to diplomatic sources at the United Nations, the report of the UN Secretary-General on His Good Offices is expected to be given.

    As reported by the same sources, the SG stresses in the non-paper of the report that it is important that all parties show their goodwill and make greater efforts to create conditions conducive to a political settlement.

    “While there was some hope that the two sides would redouble their efforts to achieve cooperation on possible bi-communal projects, and thereby build more trust, paving the way for a new round of settlement talks, these hopes were dashed within a few months. The rise of harsh rhetoric from both sides has led to increased rigidity, while prospects for a mutually acceptable settlement continue to fade,” notes the UN Secretary-General.

    It urges the leaders “to encourage more direct contacts and cooperation between the two communities and to provide concrete support to the initiatives, as requested by the Security Council as proof of their genuine commitment to a solution”.

    As noted in the report’s unofficial document “there is no doubt that the island is facing a real crisis given the number of asylum seekers, refugees and irregular migrants compared to the size of the island’s population. However, the lack of access to asylum procedures under international law continues to exacerbate the problem and is of serious concern to the United Nations.”

    Mr. Guterres calls on both sides to work together and mobilize their efforts to address the source of the problem to discuss the issue of irregular migration through meetings facilitated by UN missions on the ground and with technical expertise from the representative of the United Nations Office.

    According to the report, the political climate between the two sides was marked by tough positions and an increase in unnecessary rhetoric in the context of the election campaign and a decline in public confidence in the possibility of the sides finding common ground on settlement talks.

    Each community tended to focus its attention on internal political developments and socio-economic issues, it added.

    The report on the Peacekeeping Force highlights two important political developments:

    • Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot leadership condemned the announcement on September 16 by the United States that they had lifted the defensive trade restrictions in the Republic of Cyprus for the fiscal year 2023 and reacted by promising to strengthen their military presence in the northern part of the island.

    Following the announcement by the Republic of Cyprus of a significant increase in its military budget, the Turkish Cypriot leadership stated that the armaments activities of the Greek Cypriot side would not remain two-way.

    • On 19 September, a Turkish Cypriot delegation presented to the Secretariat a draft framework document supposed to formalise the relationship between UNFICYP and the Turkish Cypriot authorities.

    Earlier, the Special Representative/Deputy Special Advisor had reached a consensus with the leaders’ representatives on an ambitious agenda to advance a range of projects to address issues of mutual interest and build trust to improve conditions for future talks.

    In their regular weekly meetings, they tried to continue to isolate the work of the technical committees from the broader political and security dynamics regarding the Cyprus issue.

    As a result of these efforts, it is reported, they have achieved some progress, with new agreements in the fields of the environment, culture, economic and trade issues, cultural heritage. However, in the second part of the reference period, the difficult political environment began to affect cooperation and create setbacks in the activities of some technical committees.

     

     

    Activities of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus

    According to the UN Secretary-General, the work of the peacekeeping mission continues to be affected by the lack of common ground between the parties regarding the peace talks and the lack of prospects for a mutually acceptable solution.

    It is reported that mistrust between the political leadership of the two sides often leads to the rapid political escalation of low-level local incidents, which in turn, were amplified by some popular media outlets and further increased divisive rhetoric. As a result, UNFICYP’s mission and leadership were often caught between opposing narratives and a lack of political will to prevent such an escalation.

    The authority of UNFICYP, mandated by the Security Council, continued to be questioned, both as regards the position of the UN ceasefire lines and as regards the role of the mission.

     

    Prevention of tensions in and around the buffer zone

    It is also reported that empirical evidence suggests that trafficking through the buffer zone has increased, perhaps reflecting the continued widening economic gap between the two sides.

    The deep economic crisis in the north has resulted in many migrants becoming increasingly vulnerable to being used for criminal activities. The movement of migrants, both north and south of the island, created tensions between the sides and continued to provoke various reactions that ultimately did not address the problem and created new problems by changing the status quo of the buffer zone.

    UNFICYP, it added, remains particularly concerned about illegal constructions in the buffer zone, as these affect the status quo with the de facto occupation of areas that were to remain a security barrier between the opposing forces.

    A new official force of law and order of 300 people was established by the Republic of Cyprus to patrol along this fence in order to prevent migrants and asylum seekers from crossing into the south. Such patrols within the buffer zone would be considered a significant violation. Along the northern ceasefire line, the construction of trenches and the placement of other barriers within the buffer zone appear to be aimed at unilaterally changing the boundaries of the buffer zone in a few local areas.

    On average, the mission deals with approximately 10 incidents in and around the buffer zone every 24 hours, connecting and engaging both sides at all levels to ensure they do not escalate further. However, some media outlets have in some cases misrepresented some of these incidents, leading to misconceptions about the mission on both sides of the island. As a result, perceptions of the United Nations by Cypriots on both sides of the island seem to have deteriorated.

     

     

     

    Varosha

    The UN Secretary-General points out that in Varosha, no action was taken to address the Security Council’s call in its resolution 2646 (2022) for an immediate reversal of the actions taken since October 2020. UNFICYP did not notice any significant change in the 3.5% of Varosha where in July 2021 it was announced that the military regime had been lifted in preparation for renovation; However, the mission has limited access to this area. The cleaning of vegetation, electrical works, paving of roads and construction of fences continued.

    Many visitors, Cypriots and foreigners, continued to visit the parts of the city which became accessible to the public. Political announcements were made about the possible opening of public buildings in Varosha, which caused concern in the Greek Cypriot community and caused repeated calls from the mission, member states and Greek Cypriots for Turkish Cypriots and Turkey to comply with the relevant Security Council resolutions on Varosha, including ensuring systematic and effective monitoring and reporting by the mission.

    UNFICYP again observed the use of commercial aerial drone overflights, linked, during the mission assessment, to the monitoring of civilian visits. However, access to the entire Varosha area for UNFICYP patrols has remained significantly limited since 1974.

    In relation to the status of Varosha, UNFICYP continues to be guided by the relevant Security Council resolutions. Therefore, the mission and the Secretariat have repeatedly expressed concern about developments in the fenced part of the city. The United Nations continues to hold the Turkish Government responsible for the situation in Varosha.

    Similarly, it is reported, in Strovilia, the freedom of movement of the mission is limited and the connection point remains overstaffed by the Turkish Cypriot security forces.

    The unauthorized use of commercial aerial drones over the seat belt continued to be a major concern for the mission.

     

     

     

    Preventing a resumption of fighting and maintaining the military status quo

    According to the text, the situation in the buffer zone did not appear to be significantly affected by the increase in regional tensions. The data collected and evaluated by the mission do not indicate a clear correlation between the regional situation and security developments along ceasefire lines.

    The total number of military violations increased significantly in September, and this was attributed to the unauthorised installation and upgrade of surveillance equipment by the Turkish Cypriot security forces in Nicosia and at Wayne’s Keep Cemetery.

    By October, the number of violations had fallen again.

    As reported, the mission observed that the Greek Cypriot National Guard added 65 new unauthorized precast concrete firing sites along the ceasefire line, bringing the total from 2019 to about 290. Along the northern ceasefire line, 8 new precast concrete firing sites were added, bringing the total to 11. These structures are all unauthorized and illustrate the risk of escalation that each individual breach can cause.

    UNFICYP constantly protests against the continued militarisation of ceasefire lines, which, together with the development of the fence, reinforce the perception of “hard borders”.

    Tensions between UNFICYP and the Turkish Cypriot authorities have increased in the area of Wayne’s Keep Cemetery, the official website of the Commonwealth War Commission dating back to World War I. The conflict led to several incidents of violations by Turkish Cypriot security forces.

    The area of the buffer zone has long been claimed by the Turkish Cypriot authorities, over the years a way of operating to reduce tensions has been found. During the reporting period, however, the Turkish Cypriot authorities submitted requests for new procedures in compliance with their claim to the area, ignoring the fact that this area had been designated as part of the buffer zone since 1974.

    UNFICYP committed with both sides to the Security Council’s request to restore the positions of the opposing forces along the ceasefire lines and instead install cameras. However, the overall level of mistrust and the increasing number of irregular crossings through the buffer zone have prevented progress in this regard.

    UNFICYP continued to follow up on the call made by the Security Council in its resolution 2646 (2022) for the sides to agree on “a work plan to achieve a mine-free Cyprus”. No progress was made during the reporting period on the clearance of the 29 suspected hazardous areas on the island, including the three active minefields of the National Guard in the south and the inherited minefields of the Turkish Forces in the east.

     

     

     

    Management of political activity and maintenance of law and order

    Both sides continued, at times, to question the authority of the mission authorized by the Security Council. These challenges mainly concerned two points: firstly, challenges regarding the exact location of the ceasefire lines and, secondly, about the authority of the mission in carrying out its mandate, especially in and around the buffer zone.

    In total, agricultural activities in the buffer zone were carried out in accordance with the rules of the buffer zone, as defined in the auxiliary memorandum of the mission, without causing tensions with the opposing forces.

    With regard to the maintenance of law and order, UNFICYP observed or was informed by the police services of an average of 30 incidents of civilians per month within the buffer zone, which was generally in line with the last reporting period. Although targeted patrols and the use of cameras have proven effective in deterring unauthorized civilian activities to some extent, especially in central Nicosia, it is estimated that it is likely that the criminals continued their activities elsewhere in the buffer zone.

     

     

     

    Intercommunal relations, cooperation and confidence-building

    Colin Stewart, it is reported, continued to work on a weekly basis with representatives of the two Cypriot leaders. Such meetings have proved crucial to allow for an immediate political engagement between the sides in the absence of negotiations, to address issues and to discuss important projects in which both sides are involved. At the beginning of the reference period, an agenda for the development and implementation of bi-communal projects was agreed, but at the end of October increased political constraints on each side slowed down cooperation.

    Trade via the Green Line, regulated by European legislation, was one of the bright spots for intercommunal interaction during the reporting period. Although no official data was available, it was expected that Green Line trade would set new records this year, based in part on the reduction of barriers to trade in many processed foods.

    In the last six months, the Republic of Cyprus has partially lifted the ban on the Green Line trade of processed food of non-animal origin produced in the north, allowing for the first time the marketing of six new products. However, psychological and administrative barriers continued to prevent Green Line trade from reaching its full potential and hindered so-called “reverse trade” – the sale of Greek Cypriot products to the Turkish Cypriot community.

    It is added that the Special Representative spoke publicly in favour of removing barriers to trade and continued his engagement with the parties and with international partners, such as the European Union and the World Bank, to promote intra-island trade as an important instrument for the development of conditions conducive to a political settlement. Turkish Cypriot producers continued to be encouraged to adopt European Union standards in order to market their products beyond the Green Line.

     

     

     

    Facilitating humanitarian access

    UNFICYP continued to carry out humanitarian actions, mainly in the Karpas peninsula for the local Greek Cypriot community and in Pyla for the Turkish Cypriot community.

    Access to religious sites on the other side of the buffer zone increased. However, some tensions arose in some cases when some Greek Cypriot priests tried to organize services in the north and were blocked by the Turkish Cypriot authorities.

    Refugees

    Approximately 61,921 Ukrainian nationals arrived in Cyprus between 24 February and 30 October 2022, of which 17,888 applied for Temporary Protection with approximately 14,523 remaining in Cyprus at the end of October 2022. The sharp increase in the number of asylum applications continued in the second part of the year with the number of asylum applications submitted by the end of September 2022 in the Republic of Cyprus reaching 16,705, recording an increase of 93% compared to the same period last year and exceeding by 26% the total number of asylum applications submitted in the whole of 2021.

    The lack of access to asylum procedures at the Green Line crossing points leads to an increase in irregular crossings and puts asylum seekers at risk of exploitation. The recruitment of 300 armed police officers to patrol along the southern ceasefire line is expected to be appointed in January 2023.

     

     

     

    Missing

    It is also stated that in an effort to obtain additional information on the burial place of the missing persons, the Commission continued its efforts to gain access to information from the archives of countries that had a military or police presence in Cyprus in 1963/64 and 1974.

    In line with the full digitisation of the archives of its Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot offices, the Commission is also using a common web-based geographic information system application that allows for visualisation and exchange of information between the three Commission offices.

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