The biggest fear among Greek Cypriots related to the maintenance of the status quo on the island is the prospective withdrawal of Unficyp. The presence of the UN peacekeeping force provides a sense of security, however flimsy in practice, as it provides a buffer between the National Guard and the occupation troops. More importantly, Unficyp intervenes to ensure petty disputes between the two sides along the dividing line are resolved before escalating and veering out of control. Who would have this vital, if thankless, task if Unficyp was withdrawn without there being a settlement, a possibility that cannot be ruled out?
Several politicians have talked about this possibility, including negotiator Andreas Mavroyiannis, while the US has for some time been pressing the UN Security Council to review its peacekeeping operations abroad. Unficyp is under review, which is why there is a certain unease in Nicosia every six months when the mandate for the force is up for renewal. Letters are sent to the UNSG, support of Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council, is enlisted and the mandate is renewed; calls for a resumption of the talks might also help the government’s case. How much longer though will we be able to persuade the Security Council that the Unficyp mandate must be renewed?
We had hoped the government could have shed some light on the matter on Wednesday after President Anastasiades met the UN Undersecretary-General for peacekeeping operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix, but it avoided the issue. All that government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou was prepared to say after the meeting in Limassol was that several issues related to Unficyp were discussed and “its role and importance was underlined.” It was “encouraging that we have the full support of the UN for the continuation of the mission of Unficyp,” said Prodromou before changing the subject and informing us that Anastasiades informed Lacroix about the tensions caused by Turkey’s violation of the EEZ and of his efforts to secure a resumption of the talks.
Had the Undersecretary-General visited to be told about Turkey’s violations of the Cypriot EEZ when there is a Special Representative of the UNSG based permanently on the island? He had obviously come to discuss the future of Unficyp, which is his area of responsibility, but the government went out of its way to deflect attention away from this. This is understandable, to an extent, as it does not want to cause alarm, but then again people need to be made aware if the UN is considering withdrawing or downsizing Unficyp in the near future.