Prospects for a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem within a foreseeable horizon remain alive, as the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres notes in his report on UNFICYP, an unofficial copy of which was delivered late Friday to the members of the UN Security Council.
Citing his last report on 15 October 2018, Guterres underlines that he remains convinced that prior to deploying the full weight of his good offices, the sides should agree on a joint way forward.
“ I therefore urge the leaders and the guarantor powers to continue their constructive engagement with the United Nations Senior Official and to engage with each other, to this end,” he adds.
The UN Secretary also notes that UNFICYP will continue to monitor the evolving situation on the ground, assess its impact against the requirements of the mission mandate and adapt its operations to implement its mandate effectively.
“In light of its continued contribution to peace and stability and the creation of conditions conducive to a political settlement, I recommend that the Security Council extends the mandate of UNFICYP for six months, until 31 July 2019,” he notes.
He furthermore refers to Lute’s discussions with the two leaders, Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akıncı, as well as representatives of the guarantor powers, Greece, Turkey and the UK and adds that Lute also met with the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice President of the European Commission, as an observer to the Conference on Cyprus, in Brussels during the reporting period.
He also refers to recent perception surveys conducted jointly by Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot market research companies, with the involvement of the United Nations and the World Bank, suggesting that, while expectations remain low, a clear majority in both communities continue to desire a settlement of the Cyprus issue.
“ Although their reasons and motivations differ, there is apprehension in both communities about the implications of a prolonged status quo. At the same time, uncertainty about the future of the settlement negotiations appears to hamper political engagement, and risks eroding the support for reunification in the two communities”, he explains.
As he also says, both communities continue to express the desire for a peace process that is more inclusive, transparent and representative of the people and also notes that due to the uncertain future of the peace process, there is widespread and growing anxiety among Turkish Cypriots with regard to the future livelihood of their community.
“The serious economic impact of the devaluation of the Turkish Lira remained the primary preoccupation of the Turkish Cypriot authorities and public during the reporting period. On the Greek Cypriot side, surveys reveal a marginal increase in that community’s interest in the Cyprus issue, closely followed by concerns related to the economy and governance,” it is added.
As the Secretary General notes, the diminishing hope for a settlement and low levels of trust between the two communities highlighted in recent perception surveys should be a matter of concern to all Cypriots, with the leadership on both sides having the key responsibility to work to overturn these trends.
“It is of concern also to UNFICYP, given its mandate to facilitate a return to normal conditions and its efforts to create conditions conducive to a lasting settlement. In this regard, UNFICYP will further increase its efforts to bring the two communities together, including beyond Nicosia, and remains ready to support cooperation in priority areas, including those identified through the recent surveys,” he adds.
Opening of new crossing points the most positive development since July 2017
Referring to the agreement of the two leaders to open two new crossing points at Lefka-Aplici/Lefke-Aplıç and Deryneia/Derinya on November 12, he says that this is a confidence-building measure that has proven to be the most positive development in the peace process since the closing of the Conference on Cyprus in Switzerland in July 2017.
As he notes, although several demonstrations were held in opposition to the new crossing points, including two demonstrations at Dherynia on November 12 and 25, the numbers of demonstrators remained low and the events passed without any incidents. He also marks, that the new crossing points have been widely used and that in the first month since their opening, the total number of persons crossing – both ways — reached 33,037 at Dherynia and 5,450 at Lefka- Aplici.
“The Deryneia/Derinya crossing point in particular has allowed an opening up of the Greater Famagusta region, a densely populated area with a long history of grassroots support for inter- communal contact and cooperation,” he adds.
The Secretary General also says that during their October 26, the leaders informally discussed the possibility of meeting again, if further progress could be made towards implementing the confidence-building measures that had been agreed in 2015, such as on mobile phone interoperability and further integration of the two electricity grids.
As he notes, while no concrete solution was identified, technical discussions on the mobile phone confidence-building measure in the context of the Technical Committee on Economic and Commercial matters highlighted that a resolution could be within reach.
“While confidence-building measures cannot and should not be a substitute for genuine and results-oriented negotiations, I am convinced that prospects for dialogue and for lasting settlement will only be enhanced through such action. Implementation of the remaining 2015 confidence-building measures should be possible with the necessary creativity, determination and political will and I urge further work to overcome any technical or other obstacles to this end”.
Guterres also encourages the leaders to facilitate sustained, island-wide student exchanges and to promote peace education at all levels.
Risk of further tensions over hydrocarbons
Regarding the developments in Cyprus’ EEZ, the Secretary General notes that the reporting period saw a concentration of various national and joint naval forces and military, search and rescue and other exercises in the Eastern Mediterranean, including around Cyprus. As recent developments suggest, he adds, natural resources, particularly hydrocarbons, present important opportunities for regional cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean. At the same time, he continues, exploratory drilling activities around Cyprus continued to be a source of low-level tension.
“With ongoing exploratory drilling activities off the coast of Cyprus, there remains a risk of further tensions over hydrocarbons.. In this context, I reiterate that the natural resources found in and around Cyprus should benefit both communities and should provide a strong incentive to find a durable solution to the Cyprus problem”.
Increased violations of the military status quo
The UNSG also points out that since the closing of the Conference on Cyprus in July 2017 and especially during the reporting period, there has been an entrenchment of positions on both sides vis-à-vis each other and, at times, a challenging of the role of the United Nations. He adds that UNFICYP, through enhanced patrolling, observed an increase in violations of the military status quo along the ceasefire lines and observed an increase in unauthorized and at times provocative civilian incursions into the buffer zone, some of which generated significant tensions between the sides.
“Cooperation by either side with the mission in relation to the preservation of calm and stability in and around the buffer zone and the facilitation of inter- communal contacts was uneven,” he notes.
The Secretary General calls on the parties to work with UNFICYP to devise a balanced package of military-confidence building measures, which could include de-mining and further unmanning of positions.
He also calls on both sides to respect the authority of UNFICYP in the buffer zone and to heed the call of the Security Council to work with the mission on the demarcation of the buffer zone and to implement the 2018 United Nations aide-memoire. In addition, he encourages the sides to consider developing, with support from UNFICYP, their own mechanisms for alleviating tensions, be they of a military, police or civilian nature.
Guterres also points out that the United Nations remains committed to supporting the important humanitarian and confidence-building work carried out on behalf of the families of victims by the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus. It remains critical, he adds, that the Committee continue to receive sufficient financial support and information, including access to relevant military and police archives.
He therefore encourages the parties to intensify their efforts to share pertinent archival information with the Committee and supports the Committee’s call for all individuals with relevant knowledge to come forward, given the pressing challenge of time working against further progress to find and identify missing persons.