The UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP)
In March 1964, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 186, establishing UNFICYP to prevent fighting between the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot communities. After the failed 1974 Greek-Cypriot coup d’état and subsequent Turkish invasion, the Mission expanded and took responsibility for monitoring a buffer zone and promoting confidence-building measures between the parties. A de facto ceasefire has held ever since. Today, more than 1,000 UN troops, police, and civilian staff continue to carry out the Mission’s mandate. Since 1964, UNFICYP’s mandate has been extended by the UN Security Council every six months. The most recent mission renewal was on July 21, 2012 extending to January 31, 2013. The Mission's mandate includes:
• Overseeing the ceasefire lines;
• Preventing a recurrence of violence;
• Providing necessary humanitarian assistance;
• Maintaining a buffer zone between the Turkish and Turkish-Cypriot forces in the north and the Greek-Cypriot forces in the south;
• Contributing to the maintenance and restoration of law and order.
For more than 45 years, UNFICYP has helped to maintain stability in Cyprus, an island nation in the Mediterranean whose history has been irrevocably intertwined with those of nearby Greece and Turkey, as well as the United Kingdom.
In 1960, Cyprus declared independence from the UK and implemented a power-sharing agreement, splitting government control between the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot communities. An inability to share political control over taxes and municipalities, however, led to inter-communal violence and the initial deployment of UNFICYP in 1964. In 1974, factions favoring union with Greece attempted a coup d’état. Turkey intervened militarily and established control over the northern third of the island. In response to the invasion, 160,000 Greek-Cypriots living in the north fled to Greek-Cypriot controlled territory in the south, while some 50,000 Turkish-Cypriots moved to the newly Turkish-controlled territory in the north.
Since 1974, the Greek majority-ruled Republic of Cyprus occupies the southern two-thirds of the island, while the north still retains a Turkish military force with some oversight over Turkish-Cypriot police. To this day, a UN buffer zone cuts across the country, creating a physical and social barrier between the Greek and Turkish-Cypriot communities. Although the Republic of Cyprus joined the European Union (EU) in 2004, the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which declared independence in 1983, remains unrecognized by the international community, with the exception of Turkey. Turkey refuses to recognize the Republic of Cyprus until political and economic barriers are removed for Turkish-Cypriots.
A presidential election is scheduled for February 17, 2013. Demetris Christofias has said he will not run for a second term.
How This Affects American Interests
- Promotes stability and U.S. strategic interests. Cyprus’ two regional neighbors, Greece and Turkey, both have vested interests in the small island nation. As key NATO allies, the U.S. strategically relies on cooperation between Greece and Turkey, the latter of which boasts NATO’s second-largest army. Peace in Cyprus is critical not only to the stability of the entire Mediterranean region, but also necessary for NATO’s continued political and military cooperation and effective response to security threats.
- Supports negotiations for national unity. Between March and August 2008, under UN guidance, the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Demetris Christofias, and then-President of the TRNC, Mehmet Ali Talat, issued two Joint Declarations committing their respective communities to a bi-communal Cypriot Federation. The Federation would be a symbol of political equality, represented by a unified Federal Government and acting as a single figure in international affairs. Since then, the two parties have engaged in continuous negotiations. In 2010, pro-independence former-Prime Minister Dervis Eroglu replaced Mehmet Ali Talat as President of the TRNC. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon played a critical role in the resumption of peace talks.In October 2011, the Cypriot leaders met in New York with the goal of resolving the ongoing political stalemate. Since then, the UN has continued to broker talks between the Greek and Turkish-Cypriot leaders.
Provides necessary humanitarian assistance. UNFICYP helps to provide basic services to the citizens of Cyprus, during the reporting period of November 2011 to June 2012, the operation provided weekly assistance to 347 Greek Cypriots and 126 Maronites. The Operation also promotes civilian projects in the buffer zone that will help normalize relations between the communities. Between November 2011 and June 2012, the operation approved 34 of 41 applications for civilian projects. The mission also monitors any unauthorized activities in the buffer zone in order to avoid tension. UNFICYP also promotes education by providing school materials and supporting teachers to elementary and secondary schools
Facilitates reconciliation locally. UNFICYP has bolstered dialogue between the Greek and Turkish-Cypriot communities, facilitating bicommunal events, as many as 93 between November 2011 to June 2012. UNFICYP also encourages commerce and has facilitated the opening of seven crossing points and hundreds of thousands of transits through the buffer zone. Between December 2011 and May 2012, the goods crossing the buffer zone increased by as much as 57% compared to the pervious reporting period. The U.S. has encouraged development in Cyprus by supporting reconciliation and investing over $8 million annually in infrastructure projects such as universities and hospitals.
- The de facto ceasefire. The 1974 ceasefire, which ostensibly ended the hostilities stemming from the Greek nationalist coup d’état and subsequent Turkish invasion, was never formalized. As a result, the UN has not been able to demilitarize either side of the conflict. This has continued tensions and helped widen the divide between Turkish and Greek-Cypriots. Nevertheless, UNFICYP’s enforcement of a buffer zone between the two sides has proved effective. UNFICYP forces have intervened to reduce tensions along the buffer zone when necessary, and since 2011, the number of violent incidents, as well as the number of military violations, continues to decrease. More recently tensions have arisen over civilians crossing borders, for reasons such as hunting and farming.
- Denied access to clear landmines. The United Nations estimates that Cyprus still has some 15,000 landmines covering an area of two million square meters in the buffer zone and the surrounding lands. UN Peacekeepers have successfully cleared 73 minefields, which included some 27,000 mines. The peacekeeping operation has been denied access to mined areas within the buffer zone. Additionally, since January 2011, the United Nations has suspended its de-mining operations because the two sides have failed to reach an agreement on demining outside the buffer zone.
- Stalled peace process. Relations between the Turkish north and Greek south have improved over the years. Travel restrictions between the two sides have relaxed, but negotiations on security and territory have foundered in recent years. However, talks between Greek-Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias, and Turkish-Cypriot Leader Dervis Eroglu, have resumed and slow progress is being made. Many important issues have yet to be addressed, although both leaders recognize the importance of expediting the negotiation process. Christofias and Eroglu have accepted the UN’s offer of a greater mediation role in the talks and both leaders have expressed their intention to reach a comprehensive agreement as soon as possible with the help and support of the UN.
- Increased national debt and slow economy. Cyprus faces economic recession, largely due to its connection with Greek banks, which has required the government to enact a number of austerity measures. At the end of November 2012, Cypriot leaders agreed to a bailout package, but the issue is controversial with many in the public sector speaking out against the package. The measures that will be taken if the EU agrees to the bailout will dramatically increase the nation’s debt. The deal remains deadlocked; the governing board of the European Central Bank is considering whether the European Stability Mechanism will bear some of the burden of the potential debt.
*Updated December 2012.