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Our View: Has the UN presence in Cyprus itself become part of the problem?

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gave his routine, six-monthly report on Unficyp to the members of the Security Council on Tuesday and it was just more of the same. He highlighted the actions taken in and adjacent to the buffers zone by both sides, obstacles to trade and contact, the continuing provocative rhetoric and the failure in addressing Security Council resolutions of the fenced-off part of Varosha. All this, he concluded, led to the deepening of mistrust.

The absence of progress towards the resumption of negotiations created space for new facts on the ground and gave rise to provocative unilateral actions that raised tensions, he also said. To get round these problems, he urged the two leaders to encourage more contact and cooperation between the two communities and to provide concrete support to people-to-people contact. He had to make a positive suggestion of some sort, given that the common ground necessary for a resumption of talks no longer exists.

Given the lack of any movement on the resumption of talks for five years now, why does the UNSG propose the renewal of the Unficyp mandate every six months and why does the Security Council, unfailingly, give its approval? The Unficyp mandate was first approved in 1964 and 58 years later the peacekeeping force, though reduced in numbers, is still here. All efforts by the UN to broker a settlement have failed, be it through set of ideas, indicators, frameworks and even a comprehensive plan.

Such consistent failure, in a rational world, should have ended UN involvement, especially in the last couple of years, when the two sides are resolutely pulling in different directions. Even the UNSG recognises this, which is why he decided against appointing special envoy, after the departure of Jane Holl Lute. Now, it is reported that a member of the UN staff would take this role, fitting envoy duties into his/her other responsibilities – an indication of the low expectations of progress by the UNSG.

Should we be asking whether UN presence in Cyprus has become as much a part of the problem as the different agendas of the two sides? UN mediating or facilitating has allowed the two sides, too often, to play games, using the procedure as a pretext for avoiding engagement in the process. Now, they do not even have to use the procedure as the common ground has been removed altogether.

It may sound unorthodox, but perhaps the UN might help the two sides reach some kind of agreement, by ending its involvement in Cyprus. By removing the sense of security provided by the UN presence, the sides could show the urgency and commitment, which have been lacking, to reach some kind of arrangement, or even a settlement.


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