UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on the leaders to step up their game on confidence building measures (CBM), demining, collaboration, and preparing their respective communities for a settlement, an opportunity he called “real and historic, but yet fleeting and fragile”.
Ban’s comments were couched in diplomatic language but the message was clear, and although the government did not publicly respond on Saturday, the Cyprus News Agency citing sources in New York, indicated there were a number of references the Greek Cypriot side could take issue with.
Ban, in what was his latest Cyprus report to the UN Security Council, circulated as an advance copy in New York, made particular reference to the Solea fires on June 19 when the Turkish Cypriot side offered help but the Greek Cypriot side declined as it did a few days later when Ankara offered assistance.
In light of the “missed opportunity” to collaboratively fight the fires in Troodos, Ban said, the Technical Committee on Crisis Management could be used to establish and implement best practices in the event of future crises.
The comment drew the ire of opposition parties on Saturday, as an interference in Cyprus’ internal affairs and as a slap on the wrist for President Nicos Anastasiades. The parties suggested Ban stick to being an “impartial intermediary” and focus on the actual negotiations.
In this respect, Ban’s terminology when it came to the talks smacked of urgency using phrases such as “redoubling efforts”, “swift conclusion”, “could not be more compelling”, and “engage more fully”.
He called for agreed CBMs to be implemented “without delay”, expressing his concern over the lack of progress in this respect.
Though he praises the two leaders, Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, for the genuine progress they have made in the negotiations, he said CBMs agreed more than a year ago had “not materialised”.
These include mobile phone interoperability, inter-connectivity of electricity grids and the opening of the two crossings at Lefka and Dherynia
“I urge them to redouble their efforts in the months to come if they are to meet their stated aim of reaching a comprehensive settlement within 2016,” Ban said. “I urge the leaders to implement all agreed measures in good faith and without delay.”
He also called on Anastasiades and Akinci to make efforts to create a favourable climate for achieving greater economic and social equality between the two sides and to broaden and deepen the economic, social, cultural, sporting or similar relationships and contacts, including trade. “I urge both leaders to persist in addressing these issues.”
Referring to an incident last November when Greek Cypriot youths attacked Turkish Cypriot cars stopped at a traffic lights in Nicosia, Ban said a swift conclusion to the case “will send the right signal that such acts will not be tolerated now or in a future united Cyprus”.
The two sides also need to “engage and take concrete steps without further delay towards island-wide demining”, Ban said, adding that minefields had little military value and served only to pose a risk to life. “The case for clearing all minefields on the island could not be more compelling,” he said. The UNSG said the use of close circuit cameras along the buffer zone “a violation of the status quo if unaccompanied by a reduction in military personnel.”
In the negotiations, Ban said Anastasiades and Akinci must “do their utmost” to translate the significant mutual understandings they have reached into concrete convergences and to use the coming weeks to make further progress “as promptly as possible”. “This is all the more critical if they are to grasp the opportunity to move closer to their stated aim of reaching an agreement within 2016,” he said.
One of the challenges Ban cited was related to preparations for the implementation of a settlement, both for the extension of the euro to the north and the implementation of the EU acquis.
He mentioned the importance of the close cooperation amongst the international financial institutions such as the EU, IMF and the World Bank, working under UN auspices and called on the leaders to utilise their technical assistance to create an economically sustainable agreement.
“An important and sensitive period lies ahead, as the institutions working in support of my team in Cyprus complete diagnostic work on the current economic situation in both communities and conclusions and policy recommendations are formulated and communicated to the two leaders and their teams,” Ban said.
“It is now of critical importance to incorporate this work into the talks.”
Another issue of concern for the UN was that while the leaders decided to set up various expert working groups to deal with specific legal issues, they had not moved forward because “drafting of the constitution and planning for implementation have yet to begin in earnest.”
Ban said it was “imperative” and in line with the leaders’ own stated aim to intensify efforts to reach a settlement within 2016 and not to delay efforts to prepare both communities. Crucial work was also needed on the property issue to iron out the remaining divergences.
A transition period for UNFICYP and change to its mandate in light of a settlement was also in the works, the Ban report said, but this also needed the collaboration of the leaders.
“Mindful of the foregoing, I urge both sides to engage more fully, and as future partners, with each other, as well as with UNFICYP and my Good Offices mission on issues related to the implementation of a settlement,” he added.
The references in the report which the ‘diplomatic sources’ had issue with, according to CNA, included the Solea fires, the restriction of Greek Orthodox services in the north and the missing persons, all of which Ban had approached a bit too softly, they said.
For instance, Ban had failed to mention in his previous report that when there was a fire in Famagusta in May 2015 Akinci had refused help from Anastasiades.
Ban’s comments on the church services were too “mild” and
His references to the missing persons issue “weak”.
The UNSG’s said his special adviser had managed to have the number of services increased and that he advocated “freedom of worship for people of all faiths across the island”.
On the missing persons, Ban refers to the joint appeal by and said the UN “remains committed to supporting the vital humanitarian work being done”.
It is likely the generic terminology will be seen by the Greek Cypriot side as not being strong enough on Turkey since the Cyprus government has repeatedly said pressure should be brought to bear on Ankara to do more in releasing information as to the whereabouts of mass graves.