Non-stop 16-hour flights will be used for the first time to rotate Argentine troops serving in Unficyp because of the coronavirus, it emerged on Wednesday.
Around 250 members of the Argentinian contingent will be flown home and replaced by compatriots by two long haul flights that will take place next week and the beginning of September.
The troops will be replaced after serving longer on the island, due to the Covid-19 pandemic that prevented them from returning to their homeland back in April.
The flights will be operated by Argentina’s national carrier, Aerolineas Argentinas using the Airbus 330-200, as confirmed by a statement released by the airline back in July.
The first A330-200 scheduled for next week will take off from Buenos Aires and fly over 12,000 kilometres for 16 hours before landing at Larnaca airport.
Argentina’s Defence Minister Agustín Rossi said the pandemic prompted the unprecedented operation.
“Troop reliefs are usually carried out by commercial airlines that transport some military personnel, but in the context of this pandemic, we had to find a more efficient solution,” said Rossi.
“Now we have the chance to operate two non-stop flights to carry the new contingent and bring back home the Argentine personnel who concluded their mission there.”
Unficyp spokesperson Aleem Siddique said the rotation of the peacekeepers was delayed by the virus and, therefore, it had to be coordinated by the Cypriot government and specifically the health ministry.
“The last rotation was supposed to take place in April but was suspended due to the pandemic,” Siddique told Cyprus Mail.
“The Unficyp has been working with the government and with the health ministry since June to organise the rotation that will be relieving troops that have served a six-month mission and who will finally be able to return home.”
Siddique added that the rotation will continue until October, but that, so far, only two flights have been set up, one in August and one in September.
The Cyprus peacekeeping mission is one of the longest-running UN peacekeeping missions, having been set up in 1964 to prevent fighting between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities.
Now, the mission supervises the ceasefire lines, dealing with incidents as they arise, delivering humanitarian aid to local communities, and supports normal civilian activity.