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Unficyp ‘determined’ to prevent construction in buffer zone (update 3)

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Unficyp is “ready to take action if necessary to prevent the resumption of any unauthorised construction work in the buffer zone”, its spokesman said on Saturday.

It will “block or frustrate any attempt” on the part of the Turkish Cypriot side to enter the buffer zone to resume construction of a road using “non-violent means”, Aleem Siddique told the Cyprus Mail.

The United Nations peacekeeping force in Cyprus (Unficyp) is “determined to ensure that construction does not resume” on the planned road through the buffer zone between Arsos and Pyla, he added.

After UN peacekeepers were assaulted on Friday and vehicles damaged by Turkish Cypriot police and military officials there was widespread condemnation of the incident from around the world, including the UNSG on Saturday.

Siddique added that peacekeepers are “using all of our best efforts”, both on the ground, and on the diplomatic front led by the UN’s Special representative in Cyprus Colin Stewart.

These efforts involve members of the UN Security Council as well as maintaining dialogue with both sides in Cyprus, he said.

He said peacekeepers are monitoring the situation in the area and described the state of affairs at the time as “calm” although exactly what this means seemed to differ.

On Saturday afternoon, undersecretary of the north’s ‘foreign ministry’ Mustafa Lakadamyali said works had continued on the road in the morning but at a “slow pace” as it was the weekend.

However, Siddique denied this to the Cyprus Mail, saying Unficyp’s peacekeepers on the ground had said no work was being carried out.

Meanwhile, the Greek Cypriot mukhtar of Pyla said on Saturday afternoon that work on constructing the road is now taking place outside the buffer zone.

In an interview on Turkish television on Saturday afternoon, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar defended the decision to build the road.

“There are children who will go to school [using this road], there are elderly people who will go to hospital. They have been criticising us for years saying ‘you haven’t solved our problem’,” he said.

He also reiterated his earlier denial that any of the road passes through the buffer zone and said “this is a matter of sovereignty. No one has the right to interfere with road works carried out within the borders of the TRNC. This includes the UN”.

Earlier, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemned the “assault” on peacekeepers by Turkish Cypriot personnel on Friday.

He said “threats to the safety of UN peacekeepers and damage to UN property are unacceptable and may constitute serious crimes under international law”.

Additionally, he urged the Turkish Cypriot side to “respect the authority of Unficyp as mandated by the Security Council and to withdraw all personnel and machinery from the buffer zone immediately”.

He also called on them to “constructively re-engage with Unficyp to find a mutually agreeable way forward in the Pyla area”.

He concluded by saying he “reiterates his long-standing call on the parties to refrain from taking any unilateral actions that may raise tensions and compromise finding a mutually acceptable way forward”.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen also condemned the incident, saying “threats and assaults on UN peacekeepers are unacceptable”.

She called on the Turkish Cypriot side to “respect the UN mission’s mandate in the buffer zone and refrain from actions that escalate tensions”.

Also on Saturday morning, House President Annita Demetriou moved to thank the international community for its reaction to the incident.

“We are watching with great satisfaction as the international community as a whole condemns the illegal actions of the occupying regime in the buffer zone and the criminal attacks against members of Unficyp”, she said

She added that momentum must not be lost “from all decision-making centres, both to prevent new faits accomplis and to return to the negotiation table to resolve the Cyprus problem on the basis of the agreed solution framework”.

Turkish Cypriot authorities announced their intention to construct a road through the buffer zone between the villages of Pyla and Arsos on Thursday.

UN peacekeepers attempted to block access to the road on Friday morning and were “violently pushed back” by Turkish Cypriot personnel.

One peacekeeper was punched in the face and three in total received treatment for minor injuries, while multiple UN vehicles were rendered “undriveable” after being dragged off the road by Turkish Cypriot machinery.

 

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