UN condemns assault on personnel and vehicles inside Cyprus buffer zone

UN condemns assault on personnel and vehicles inside Cyprus buffer zone

UN peacekeepers on Cyprus have condemned an assault on its personnel and damage to its vehicles “by personnel from the Turkish Cypriot side” on Friday morning.

In a statement, the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) said the incident took place inside the buffer zone near Pyla as its peacekeepers blocked unauthorized construction work in the area.

“Threats to the safety of UN peacekeepers and damage to UN property are unacceptable and constitute a serious crime under international law which will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” UNFICYP said.

“UNFICYP calls on the Turkish Cypriot side to respect the mission’s mandated authority inside the UN buffer zone, refrain from any actions that could escalate tensions further and to withdraw all personnel and machinery from the UN buffer zone immediately.”

The mission added that it “is monitoring the situation closely and remains committed to ensuring calm and stability are maintained in the area.”

The Foreign Ministry in Athens described the incident as a “blatant violation of the status quo” and an “act of contempt for international legality.”

On Thursday, UNFICYP said it would block construction by Turkish Cypriots of a road that would encroach on the UN-controlled buffer zone as it would violate its mandate of maintaining the status quo inside the zone.

Work began earlier in the day on the road to connect the village of Arsos in the Turkish-occupied north part of the island with the mixed Greek Cypriot-Turkish Cypriot village of Pyla, just south of the buffer zone and inside the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus.

The road would give Turkish Cypriots direct access to Pyla by circumventing a checkpoint on the fringes of a British military base, one of two bases that the UK retained after Cyprus gained independence from British colonial rule in 1960.

Greek Cypriots perceive the road construction as a move with a military purpose at a sensitive spot along the buffer zone spanning 180 kilometers.

Maintaining the status quo of the buffer zone is enshrined in the UN mission’s mandate since 1974, when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup mounted by Greek junta-backed supporters of union with Greece.

The UN says there have been numerous infringements of the buffer zone by both sides over the years. But this road construction is seen as “an attempt at a very serious violation of the status quo,” according to Cyprus government spokesman Constantinos Letymbiotis.

Letymbiotis added that the Cyprus government is working with the UN peacekeepers to thwart the road construction.

The Cypriot government has been pushing hard to restart moribund negotiations to resolve the island’s division and warned that construction of the road would entail “negative repercussions” on efforts to resume talks and on Turkey’s relations with the EU. [Kathimerini, AP]

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