Australia is pulling its civilian police unit out of Cyprus after 53 years on the island, having been here since the start of the UN peacekeeping presence in 1964.
As of December 2016, there were seven Australian police officers serving in the United Nations Police (Unpol), one of 14 countries which have a total of 67 officers serving in Cyprus.
Unpol’s job has been part of Unficyp since April 1964. It contributes to the maintenance and restoration of law and order in the buffer zone.
It is understood the Australian unit will leave by the end of the month, though the Unficyp spokesman could not be reached for confirmation on Wednesday.
Last month, according to Unficyp’s magazine Blue Beret, this year’s traditional Anzac Day dawn service was the last for what is currently the 111th contingent of the Australian Federal Police, and Australian officials attended the ceremony Wayne’s Keep in the buffer zone to honour fallen soldiers.
Contingent Commander Bronwyn Carter said during the ceremony: “On this day, mindful of the awful costs of war, we renew our commitment to make peace and to keep peace. It is fitting that we do so here in Cyprus, where the troops and police of many countries have come to build and maintain peace and security.”
According to Australian accounts of their history with Cyprus, in May 1964, the first unit of police officers from Australia, numbering 40, arrived on the island. Australia did not want to commit troops to the UN mission at the time.
Sue Thompson, a lecturer and graduate convenor at the National Security College, writing for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), said it was to be a 12-month mission.
“The Cyprus request presented Canberra with the political opportunity to commit to international peacekeeping missions without jeopardising its own regional security concerns. And it provided the UN force in Cyprus with a contingent of personnel that could handle civilian tasks that the military wasn’t trained to undertake,” she said. Canberra also sent £A50,000 – the Australian pound was the currency until 1966 – towards the cost of the peacekeeping force.
“While Cyprus wasn’t strategically important to Australia, it was a member of the Commonwealth and Canberra didn’t want to see Britain’s military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean wane,” the ASPI article said.
Unpol also has police officers from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, China, India, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine.
They investigate criminal offences committed or suspected of having been committed by non-UN persons inside the buffer zone, provide support to Unficyp during demonstrations and disturbances, resolve civil disputes between residents of the two communities in the buffer zone, maintain law and order in the bi-communal village of Pyla, monitor the crossing points, and issue and verify permits for farming, building construction and other works in the buffer zone.
They also investigate and report illegal dumping of waste, illegal hunting and bird trapping in the buffer zone, and assist and facilitate the handover of alleged illegal immigrants found within the buffer zone.