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A deep dive into Pyla crisis

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The unprecedented attack by the Turkish Cypriots against members of UNFICYP in the buffer zone highlights their efforts to challenge the functions of the UN force in Cyprus by a decision to construct a road between occupied Arsos and Pyla, thus violating the status quo.

Obviously, in their plans, this action constitutes an escalation aiming at achieving their said goal.

In July 2018, the then-Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, in a letter sent to the members of the UN Security Council, asked for the reassessment of the mandate of UNFICYP.

He argued that UNFICYP continues to cooperate with the Turkish Cypriot authorities without a legal basis and that his community is ready to prepare a document dealing with all aspects of their relations with the UN.

Regarding the legal basis argument, it should be noted that the host state’s consent is the most important legal basis for the admission and operation of a UN force.

In the case of Cyprus, this consent has been given by the government of the Republic of Cyprus.

The necessity of placing relations between the UN and the host state on a clear legal basis led to the conclusion of an agreement on March 31, 1964, between the Republic of Cyprus and the UN concerning the status of UNFICYP.

In this respect, it should be mentioned that the mandate of the force, as enunciated by the Security Council in its resolution of March 4, 1964, was in the interest of preserving international peace and security, to use its best efforts to prevent a recurrence of fighting and to help maintain and restore law and order and return to normal conditions.

It is interesting to note that, early in the history of UNFICYP, the need was felt for some clarifications regarding the force’s role.

To that end, the then-Secretary General U Thant circulated to the governments an aide-memoire (UN doc S/5653 of April 11, 1964) setting forth several principles to guide the force’s conduct.

One of them provides that the force undertakes no functions inconsistent with the provisions of the UN SC resolution of March 4, 1964.

Coming now to Akinci’s expressed readiness to prepare a document with the UN to deal with all aspects of their relations, one wonders whether the UN can ignore its own Resolution 541 (1983) of November 18, 1983, which deplores the Turkish Cypriot Unilateral Declaration of Independence and considers the said UDI as legally invalid and calls for its withdrawal.

The Turkish Cypriot side made the second attempt to challenge the functions of UNFICYP through a statement by the so-called “foreign minister” Tahsin Ertugruloglu, published in the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet in October 2022, which could be characterised as an ultimatum.

He was giving a month’s notice to UNFICYP to agree to the conclusion of a separate agreement with the ‘TRNC’, seeking, in fact, recognition of his illegal regime.

He further stated that if the answer of the UN to the “agreement for the regime of the forces”, submitted earlier by him and the Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar to Antonio Guterres and Jean Pier Lacroix were negative, they would take the necessary steps.

As was expected, the second attempt was confronted by the same difficulties encountered by Mustafa Akinci.

Challenge

Words turned into deeds with the events in Pyla, where the Turkish Cypriots attacked members of UNFICYP, thus escalating their efforts to challenge its authority in the buffer zone.

They were not expecting the strong reaction of the international community, particularly that of the UN Security Council.

In the statement issued on August 21, 2023, Council President Linda Thomas-Greenfield (USA), we note the following: The serious concern expressed by the launch of unauthorised construction by the Turkish Cypriot side in the UN buffer zone near Pyla and that this action runs contrary to Security Council resolutions and constitutes a violation of the status quo.

Condemnation of the assaults against the UN peacekeepers underlined that these attacks may constitute crimes under international law.

There was a call to remove all unauthorised construction and prevent unauthorised military or civilian activities within and along the ceasefire lines. There are also two important political elements.

And commitment of the Security Council to an enduring, comprehensive, and just settlement based on the bicommunal, bizonal federation with political equality, as set out in relevant Security Council resolutions.

The second is their call for the sides to reach an agreement regarding the proposal of the Secretary-General to appoint a UN envoy who could support the parties to reach a common ground to turn to formal negotiations.

Along the same lines goes the reaction of UNFICYP, here in Nicosia, warning in particular against unauthorised construction of the UN buffer zone.

We observe that the reaction of the Security Council and the effective performance of UNFICYP in this particular case of the Pyla crisis, under its mandate, gives hope that the United Nations as the appropriate organ whose objectives and principles represent a genuine guarantee for peace and security in the world, will take firmer action to find a just, enduring, and comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem.

By Dr Andrestinos N. Papadopoulos, Ambassador a.h.