UN peacekeepers in Cyprus were assaulted by Turkish forces inside the buffer zone near Pyla on Friday morning, prompting the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) to condemn the assault on its personnel and damage to its vehicles.
The incident took place as UNFICYP blocked unauthorised construction work on a road that would connect the village of Arsos in the Turkish-occupied north part of the island with the mixed Greek Cypriot-Turkish Cypriot village of Pyla.
“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,” the UNFICYP stated. They called 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 British High Commission, French Embassy, and the US Embassy in Cyprus expressed “serious concern” over the Turkish Cypriot side’s “illegal” roadwork in the buffer zone and condemned the attacks on UN personnel. In a joint statement, they said, “These actions are completely unacceptable and undermine the UN’s ability to carry out its peacekeeping mission.” They called on the Turkish Cypriot authorities to immediately halt the roadwork and emphasised that the continued actions were particularly distressing despite the UN’s offer to address the concerns of the Turkish Cypriots in the region.
The road construction is perceived by Greek Cypriots as a move with a military purpose at a sensitive spot along the buffer zone spanning 180 kilometres. 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 announced that it would block the construction by Turkish Cypriots, as it would violate its mandate of maintaining the status quo inside the zone. The road would give Turkish Cypriots direct access to Pyla by circumventing a checkpoint on the fringes of a British military base.
Cyprus government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis referred to the road construction as “an attempt at a very serious violation of the status quo.” He added that the Cyprus government is working with UN peacekeepers to thwart the road construction.
Fuat Oktay, the chairman of the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM) Foreign Affairs Committee, denounced the UN’s intervention, calling it “unjust, unlawful, and unseemly”. He argued that the TRNC is an independent and sovereign state and urged the UN to engage in direct dialogue with the TRNC.
Former General Chairman of the Democratic Party (DP) in Cyprus, Serdar Denktaş, expressed concern over the incident and criticised subsequent statements that declared UN Security Council members as enemies, warning that such attitudes could further damage the prospects for a two-state solution.