Assurances have been received at the highest levels that the proposed reduction in Unifcyp personnel will not affect its operational capacity, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday.
The cuts would mainly affect support staff, the ministry said in a statement. It noted that as under normal protocols, it would convey to the UN Secretariat the government’s observations on the report’s various elements.
“The report’s reference to Security Council Resolution 186(1964) is considered important, as this resolution established Unficyp – with the consent of the Republic of Cyprus – and it contains the Force’s mandate, which remains unchanged to this day,” the statement said.
“The mandate was not part of the review, as indicated in the report. The report also refers to the agreement between the Republic of Cyprus and the UN concerning Unficyp’s status, known as SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement),” the ministry said.
According to the statement, the UN Secretary-General’s report on the review is expected to be considered by the Security Council in January, along with the Secretary-General’s biannual report on the force’s activities, as well as last September’s Good Offices report.
“The Secretary-General’s report is based on the findings of the comprehensive assessment of Unficyp’s activities by a UN Secretariat team during the past few months. The review was mandated by the Security Council within the framework of the regular evaluation of all UN peacekeeping missions across the globe,” ministry added.
It also said that the report proposes that Unficyp’s military personnel be slightly reduced to 802, while still allowing for an immediate increase to 860, which was the military’s strength until very recently, adding that “should the report be endorsed by the Security Council, the reduction will have no bearing on Unficyp’s operational capacity, as it mainly affects support staff. Assurances at the highest level have been received in this regard.”
In his report, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recommended minor reductions in the force in Cyprus while maintaining its role as a deterrent and expanding its observation, liaison and engagement capabilities. An unofficial copy of the report was handed over on Monday afternoon to UN Security Council in New York.
In it, Guterres said: “Unficyp will thus remain, for the time being, an infantry-based peacekeeping operation, but with a strengthened observation and liaison component. This represents a further step in the direction already taken after the review of Unficyp of 2004.”
“It will make the mission more effective in maintaining calm in the buffer zone and preventing tensions from escalating, thus helping to create conditions conducive to a resumption of settlement talks. At the same time, the efficiencies identified by the review team will, once fully implemented, allow for measurable savings in the Unficyp budget,” the UNSG said.
According to Guterres, the review team, found that Unficyp operates in an environment characterised by constant but contained military incidents along the ceasefire lines, combined with a vastly increased level of civilian activity in the buffer zone.
The ability of Unficyp to resolve any such incidents quickly and prevent them from escalating is especially valued since the two sides have no direct contact with each other and rely on the Mission to clear up misunderstandings and pass on messages, the report said.
“I, therefore, concur with the recommendation of the review team that the preventive and deterrent role of Unficyp should be maintained for the time being. While the actual impact of such a role is very difficult to ascertain, the risk associated with any drastic reduction of the Force is not justified under present circumstances,” Guterres said.
He also took note that “the review team has identified an opportunity for a limited reduction in the military strength of the mission, mainly with respect to the military support elements. In line with the findings of the review team as detailed in this report, I, therefore, recommend that the actual military strength of Unficyp be reduced to 802 troops.”
“This need not be reflected in a reduction of the authorised strength; in fact, if the authorised strength were to remain at 860, it would allow some flexibility to increase deployment should the need arise, for example in support of eventually resumed settlement talks,” he added.