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Concerns over ‘recognition’ of north should not hinder cooperation, UN chief says

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, though not explicitly naming the Greek Cypriot side, took a dig in his latest report at the preoccupation with citing potential recognition of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot ‘state’, hinting this was a pretext for disengaging.

“In their efforts to promote closer cooperation between the communities, local and international actors continue to be confronted with challenges and obstacles linked to the status of the north and concerns related to ‘recognition’,” Guterres said in his report recommending the extension of Unficyp’s mandate for six months, until January 31, 2020.

He said “concerns over ‘recognition’ should not in themselves constitute an insurmountable obstacle to increased cooperation” between the two sides and urged them to re-engage in talks to resolve the Cyprus problem “constructively, creatively and with the necessary urgency.”

“The parties should redouble their efforts to restore full-fledged negotiations and their engagement should be infused with a sense of purpose and determination to reach a successful end within a foreseeable horizon,” he said in the report to the Security Council.

While hailing some progress in confidence-building measures, the UN chief cautioned that these “should not be construed as a substitute for advancing in the settlement negotiations.”

He appealed to both leaders to “make bold, unilateral gestures to restore damaged trust and resume dialogue, with support from the United Nations.

“I note with regret that, despite my and the Security Council’s repeated encouragement, few efforts have been deployed to improve the public atmosphere for negotiations, to deliver constructive messages between the sides or to prepare the communities for a settlement.”

Elsewhere Guterres noted that continued violations and low-level tensions demonstrate how “Unficyp, through its monitoring, engagement and liaison, continues to play an indispensable role in preventing escalation.

“Pending a full-fledged resumption of the Cyprus talks, violations of the military status quo will continue, posing a potential threat to security and stability in the buffer zone and beyond.”

The UNSG said he was concerned about continued unauthorized civilian incursions and occasional provocative behaviour in the buffer zone and the direct impact these have on military violations.

He cited unauthorised farming by Greek Cypriot farmers close to Turkish forces positions or Turkish Cypriot farmers likewise farming on unauthorized land.

“Unauthorised farming activities continued to be the source of intra-civilian and civilian-to-military tensions, especially when undertaken in close proximity to Turkish forces positions. Increases in move forward violations in particular were often directly linked to such unauthorised civilian activities.”

Unficyp also expressed its concern to the Cypriot foreign ministry over the large civilian construction underway inside the buffer zone in Pyla, a project associated with the adjacent university that has gone ahead despite the project not having been authorised by the mission.

The report also touched on the increasing flow of migrants crossing into the south via the buffer zone.

“New arrivals from the northern part of the island, mostly Syrian nationals arriving from Turkey and Lebanon and persons of African origin entering as students or to seek employment, crossed south in steadily increasing numbers…”

Unficyp recorded fewer boat arrivals directly into the buffer zone during the period in question (two boats carrying 68 Syrian refugees).

“However, new smuggling routes are being used for crossings from north to south through porous sections of the buffer zone. In the Avlona- Akkaki area, 264 mostly Syrian refugees were reported by the Cyprus police as having been ‘smuggled’ from north to south between January 1 and April 30.

“…if the current trend continues, the Republic of Cyprus could face a three-fold increase in new asylum applications by the end of 2019, putting extraordinary pressure on an already stretched reception system.”

On the dispute over maritime zones between Cyprus and Turkey, Guterres did strike a note of concern but kept his language neutral.

“I have repeatedly stressed that the natural resources found in and around Cyprus should benefit both communities and constitute a strong incentive for all parties to find a mutually acceptable and durable solution to the Cyprus problem,” he said.

Commenting on the report, main opposition Akel said it was disconcerting that, once again, the UN held back from assigning blame to Ankara for the tensions at sea.

This equidistant approach, said Akel leader Andros Kyprianou, “indicates that the UNSG considers our side co-responsible for the current situation.

“The most advised way forward, therefore, is for the president to…convince the USNG that he is ready to continue the peace talks in the manner recommended by the UNSG.”

The only precondition that the Greek Cypriots should place for returning to the table is the prior cessation of Turkish maritime provocations.

Should the Greek Cypriot side fail to persuade that their interest in resuming talks is genuine, there is a risk of the United Nations eventually losing hope that talks can resume, Kyprianou warned.

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