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Our View: Unficyp mandate shows change coming for status quo

Unficyp soldiers in the buffer zone (CNA)

How many times over the last 45 years has a Cyprus government expressed fears that the wording of a draft resolution of the UN Security Council about Cyprus was harmful and then supposedly engaged in frenzied diplomatic consultations to have it changed? Our foreign ministry always succeeds in changing the wording – sometimes it might just be a preposition and a comma – so that the dangers posed are neutralised and the resolution approved is satisfactory.

This narrative, which is as old as the Cyprus problem, has been replayed scores of times and allows the foreign ministry to record diplomatic victories that nobody would question or challenge. The evil force in this narrative is always Britain, because it has always drafted the resolution for the renewal of the Unficyp mandate, and is blamed for the ‘negative’ wording of certain paragraphs. Our diplomatic service always seeks the help of Russia (the Soviet Union in the past), which ensures the unacceptable references are eliminated or, at least, re-phrased.

We witnessed this familiar narrative in the last week when the Security Council was scheduled to approve the renewal of the Unficyp mandate for six months. The government leaked to the press that it was very unhappy with resolution draft’s “disconcerting references” which spoke about “direct contacts” between the two sides, as this equated the Cyprus Republic to the pseudo-state. This would have led to the feared upgrading of the pseudo-state which is why it had to be removed from the resolution. It happened thanks to diplomatic initiatives at UN headquarters and direct consultations with Britain, unnamed government sources said.

Avoiding the so-called upgrading of the north has become an end in itself for the Cyprus foreign ministry, an effective way of safeguarding and maintaining the status quo, which seems to be preferable to a settlement to the Greek Cypriot political establishment. Concerns about the upgrading provide an excuse for avoiding direct engagement with the Turkish Cypriots that would mean taking ownership of the peace process, something our side has always refused to do, insisting on UN mediation and occasionally demanding an international conference.

This position undermines President Anastasiades’ continuous assertions that a settlement is his number one priority. If it were, would he mobilise the entire diplomatic service to remove the UN Secretary-General’s proposal for direct contact between the two sides from the resolution, a proposal aimed at encouraging direct cooperation and doing ground work for the peace process? No, he would be seizing any such opportunity rather than blocking it.

Apart from the danger of upgrading, direct contact, government officials said, would “normalise” the occupation. This was a surreal objection, considering our ongoing efforts at maintaining the status quo achieves one thing – the normalisation of the situation. In a sense, though, they were right. The offending reference was aimed at preparing us for life without Unficyp when there would have to be direct contact between the two sides to resolve anything.

This is exactly what we were being prepared for by the paragraph of the Security Council resolution that was not deleted and “calls for the establishment of an effective mechanism for direct military contacts between the sides and the relevant involved parties, and urges Unficyp as facilitator through its liaison role, to submit proposals in this regard.” It implies that Unficyp will not be in Cyprus much longer to mediate between the Turkish army and the national guard, which would have to develop direct channels of communication – with Unficyp’s help – to deal with disputes along the ceasefire line arising in the future.

In the statement that followed the Berlin meeting last November, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres mentioned the two leaders had agreed that “the status quo is unsustainable,” which was a round-about way of saying they understood Unficyp would not be in Cyprus indefinitely to safeguard it. And this is why the resolution approved on Thursday wanted the establishment of direct military contacts. The two sides are being prepared for life without Unficyp that will be one of the certain consequences of another failed peace process. One is scheduled to begin soon after April’s elections in the north and is unlikely to drag on for long without real progress, as has been the case in the past.

We can carry on ignoring the signs, behaving as if we will always have Unficyp shielding us from the occupation troops, policing and preserving the status quo, which we have become extremely comfortable with, but nothing lasts forever. The call for direct contact between the two sides may have been removed from the latest resolution but not from the reality that awaits us and our government pretends not to be aware of.

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