By Christos P. Panayiotides
WHEN, a couple of months ago, I hinted that the possibility existed of Unficyp’s mandate not being renewed, I was branded an ‘alarmist’. I am not sure what this implies but my experience tells me that, when there is smoke, an alarm signal is useful and, if properly attended to, could save both lives and property.
Unficyp has been in Cyprus since 1964 to prevent intercommunal violence between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Following the 1974 reckless coup and the ensuing Turkish invasion, the force was redeployed to patrol the 180-km buffer zone, which covers an area of 350 square metres, thus keeping the Greek Cypriot National Guard and the Turkish Army at a distance. The force comprises approximately 950 uniformed personnel and 150 civilians.
The annual cost of Unficyp is of the order of €50m, of which €21m relate to military and police personnel, €12m to civilian personnel and €17m to operating costs.
About one third of this cost is given by Cyprus and €6m by Greece. However, the real cost of Unficyp is substantially higher given that the €50m is exclusive of the remuneration of the military and police personnel, which is covered by the participating countries.
These countries are: Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Slovakia, the Netherlands, the UK, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Paraguay, Peru, Serbia, Bosnia, El Salvador, India, Montenegro, Ukraine and, until the end of this month, Australia.
In 2011, the then Secretary-General reported that a discussion about the possible decommissioning of Unficyp had been initiated and said its continued presence on the island could not be taken for granted.
The issue of disbanding Unficyp has recently resurfaced but almost all the Greek Cypriots I have talked to discounted this possibility.
Most of them were convinced that the discussion was initiated by the United Nations – both in 2011 and recently – in order to “apply pressure” on the Greek Cypriots to accept the necessary compromise for a settlement but, in reality, there was no intention of proceeding in this direction…with only one exception.
All the persons I have talked to considered the possibility of disbanding Unficyp as “something inconceivable”, particularly since the Cyprus government covers a substantial part of the cost. This is a fallacy. The real annual cost of Unficyp, if one includes the cost of the remuneration of the military and police personnel that is covered by the participating countries, must be approaching €200m, of which only a small fraction is covered by Cyprus.
The impression that Unficyp is here to stay ad infinitum was somewhat shattered by the recent decision of the Australians to withdraw their civilian police. Will others follow? Will the mandate be renewed when it comes at the end of July? Certainly, it would not be realistic to assume the force will remain in existence forever.
When the leaders of the two communities reconvene in Geneva, they would be well advised to take this factor into consideration in formulating their positions. There can be no doubt that in the event of the Cyprus problem being declared “insoluble”, the voices advocating for the decommissioning of Unficyp will multiply.
Christos Panayiotides is a regular contributor to the Cyprus Mail and Alithia