Important step forward would be agreement on a UN envoy

The leaders of the two sides should promote more contact and cooperation as well as the opening of more crossing points, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday in his two separate reports for the past six months.

He added that an important step forward would be an agreement with the sides on an appointment of a United Nations envoy. This decision could help reach common ground towards resuming negotiations for a lasting settlement in Cyprus, the UNSG said in his report on his Mission of Good Offices in Cyprus.

But he also urged the two leaders to send a clear signal that “this time things will be different” in his report on the peace keeping force on the island (Unficyp).

Meaningful initiatives to build trust and good will between the two sides “are crucial to creating a momentum towards dialogue that could ultimately chart a path back to settlement talks”, Gutterres said in a report focused on developments from December 13, 2022 to June 12, 2023.

According to the advance copy of the report to inform members of the Security Council, he encourages the two leaders “to be proactive in seeking mutually acceptable modalities for dialogue” but also establishing a “direct channel of communication”.

Guterres urged the two leaders to engage in discussions on their respective proposals that have been put forward and recommended the opening of additional crossing points.

“To this end, both leaders should actively promote people-to-people contact, cooperation and trade, including through improving existing crossing points and the opening of new ones,” he added.

The two sides should also work together to tackle illegal immigration, he said.

More inclusive cooperation was also mentioned by the UNSG who said politicians should effectively engage and involve women, minorities, youth and persons with disabilities in discussions related to a shared future on the island and incorporate their views accordingly.

Regarding the work of the technical committees, he said these “could do more” and called on the two sides to support them. The technical committees should be protected and insulated from larger political discussions and problems in and adjacent to the buffer zone involving Unficyp, he noted.

The UNSG further pointed out that seizing the opportunity in the coming period to forge greater economic activity between the two sides makes good business sense and would have important positive impacts on the lives of Cypriots.

But he reiterated his concern over developments in the fenced-off area of Varosha, on which the UN position remains unchanged, and called for adherence to the security council’s resolutions.

Regarding energy, he urged the parties to put “sincere efforts” towards exploring options for sustainable energy cooperation in and around the island and refraining from taking actions that could increase tensions.

Meanwhile, in his report on Unficyp, he said that following the elections in the region, attention now must turn to addressing the Cyprus issue.

“As time is working against a mutually acceptable political settlement in Cyprus, I call on the leaders of the two communities to take urgent action to address the distrust between the sides and create space for meaningful dialogue, to send a clear signal that this time things will be different,” he said.

Despite the increase in trade over the reporting period, obstacles to greater economic interaction between the two communities continue, he said.

Another crucial issue is for the two sides to demonstrate their capacity to jointly address island-wide issues, such as earthquakes or fires, with the UNSG saying he is “pleased” with the ongoing efforts toward setting up a joint dedicated crisis management mechanism.

The UNSG referred to the crossing points in the Unfycip report as well, noting that the long queues should be addressed jointly, including through the opening of new crossings, to increase trust and cooperation.

As for some of his concerns, Guterres said he especially regrets the absence of substantial progress towards removing “divisive and intolerant rhetoric” from schoolbooks, especially the Greek Cypriot ones.

The Turkish Cypriot authorities, he said, should also reinstate the award-winning peace education project Imagine “without further delay”.

He also urged the relevant authorities to reinstate the right of access to asylum procedures at the crossing points.

Referring to the “unauthorised construction for private and commercial use in the buffer zone,” he said this undermines respect for the mandated authority of Unficyp and recalled the council’s request that all unauthorised constructions inside the buffer zone be removed. As an example he cited the enhancement of surveillance technology on both sides of the buffer zone, carried out without consultation with the force.

“As proposed in my previous reports, I would urge the parties to work with my Special Representative to explore the idea of unstaffing the ceasefire lines, in return for the potential validation by the United Nations of surveillance technology that is neither deployed inside the buffer zone nor able to see beyond it.”

Concerns over new developments in the fenced-off area of Varosha were reiterated in the Unficyp report, and deplored the restrictions on the freedom of movement of the peacekeeping force imposed in the area and elsewhere, as in Strovilia.

Furthermore, he added that “the establishment of a direct military contact mechanism between the opposing forces would be a very positive step for stability and confidence-building on the island, especially in the context of the current increase in militarisation”.

As of June 12, 2023, the strength of the military component stood at 801 (708 men and 93 women), while that of the police component stood at 64 (37 men and 27 women).