Unficyp has allowed plenty of Greek Cypriot building in buffer zone, Turkish Cypriots argue

By Fahri Zihni

Following the Pile (Pyla)-United Nations incident on August 18, when the building of a road to facilitate better transport for Turkish Cypriots was blocked by UN soldiers, there has been an unseemly outpouring of self-righteous indignation at the Turkish Cypriots’ attempt to build a road that would “seriously violate the status quo” (sic).

This statement is particularly disappointing coming from the UN Secretary General António Guterres, and Unficyp chief Colin Stewart whose own reports to the Security Council describe in detail the widespread building activities by the Greek Cypriot administration, all of which are unauthorised by the UN and violate the status-quo. I quote:

Unficyp expressed its concern to senior officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cyprus about the large amount of civilian construction under way inside the buffer zone in Pyla, a project associated with the adjacent university that has proceeded despite not having been authorised by the mission. The university in Pyla continued to operate without authorisation from Unficyp.”

However, although the construction of Uclan, the British university, the building, student accommodation and a cinema were unauthorised by the UN, no physical action was taken to prevent their construction.

The mission observed that the National Guard added 65 new unauthorised prefabricated concrete firing positions along their ceasefire line, bringing the total since 2019 to approximately 290. Along the northern ceasefire line, eight new prefabricated concrete firing positions were added, bringing the total to 11.”

Again, no physical action was taken.

The unauthorised concertina wire fence deployed in early 2021 parallel to the southern ceasefire line, and stretching for 12 km in the buffer zone, was not removed. Instead, five new gates were added and Unficyp was informed of plans for another fence, 7.5km of which would be built in the buffer zone, encroaching, in places, by as much as 235m beyond the southern ceasefire line.”

Again, no physical action was taken.

Also, most notably, to facilitate better transport for Greek Cypriots, the building of the Larnaca-Dhekelia-Ayia Napa road in 1996, and Pyla-Oroklini road in 2004 were allowed to go ahead with no UN resistance, unlike the Turkish Cypriot requests which have been ignored since 1998 for the upgrading of the road between Pile (Pyla) and Yigitler (Arsos). These were blockaded by concrete blocks, UN vehicles and a row of some 50 UN soldiers.

It was a grave error by the UN to take the extreme position of physically blocking the building of the Pile-Yigitler road without warning, and in doing so, recklessly putting its own servicemen and Turkish Cypriot villagers, building contractors and police at risk of injury in the process. Thankfully, as no weapons were used by anyone at the scene, despite the alarmist and misleading press releases issued following August 18, injuries to both sides were few and minor.

The UN message to the 500 Turkish Cypriots of Pile that they are not as worthy as their Greek Cypriot Pyla neighbours to exercise their rights to movement is shocking.

A Pile resident mother dropping her children off at their grandparents in north Cyprus, has to endure the indignity of being questioned, and, on occasion, body searched by Greek Cypriot police on her return before she can cross the checkpoint, on the pretext that the Green Line Regulations require this. There has always been a road between Pile and Yigitler, but as a dirt-track, it is unsuitable for driving without upgrading. So, to reach a location in the centre of northern Cyprus, she and her children could be spending up to two hours on a journey that could, and should, take 20-30 minutes. These difficulties apply to everyone, including businesses, and the current situation is completely untenable. In contrast, the Greek Cypriot community can drive straight through to their destinations in the south without any serious difficulty.

It was absolutely unnecessary for the United Kingdomto have kept the Green Line Regulations (GLR) after Brexit (January 2020). However, in collusion with Greek Cypriot authorities, it continued to maintain a GLR control point, staffed by Greek Cypriots on its sovereign base border, further propagating the embargo on Turkish Cypriot trade and restricting their movement.

More crucially, the checkpoint which was originally in the south of Pile was cynically moved the north of the town, effectively putting Pile under the domain of the Republic of Cyprus, and in doing so seriously violating the independent status of the village – all done with UN acquiescence.

The above privations have resulted in a decrease of population of the Turkish Cypriots of Pile from about 1,000 to 500 over the past 10 years. Conversely, following UN-unauthorised construction in the village, the Greek Cypriot population is likely to have increased by a similar number.

If the current situation continues unabated, a Turkish Cypriot exodus will surely continue from Pile to northern Cyprus. Instead of being seen as a showcase for multi-culturalism and co-existence, it will become a mono-cultural Greek Cypriot town which will further support the view that only a two-state solution with fully independent governance for each community will work for Cyprus.

On Thursday, unofficial reporting by one newspaper suggested that a new “deal” has been put to the two sides by the UN. In this, the UN is said to be proposing that that the road from Pile to Yigitler will be built to address obvious travel needs, but unlike the building of roads in the south, totally unrelated preconditions will also apply.

If the report is holds true, the new preconditions will include the redrawing of the UN buffet zone whereby land which has been under the control of Turkish Cypriots for the past 39 years would be added to the UN buffer zone and put under UN control. Contrary to the current UN rules, this part of the buffer zone would be permitted to have new buildings erected.

This sounds like recipe for disaster, opening up a new chapter of conflict between the two communities about the consequences of new buildings, their authorisation, ownerships and use for the many years to come.

This approach would certainly dismay the Turkish Cypriot community who would see this as evidence of anti-Turkish Cypriot bias, based on the fact that Cyprus pays $19m, and Greece pays $6.5m of the $57m Unficyp annual budget.

Fahri Zihni is former chair of Council of Turkish Cypriot Associations (UK), a former policy advisor at the UK’s Cabinet Office and a former president of Society of IT Management, UK