UN Peacekeepers Attacked in Cyprus Amidst Controversial Road Construction

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UN peacekeepers were assaulted while attempting to prevent a group of Turkish Cypriots from constructing an unauthorized road through a buffer zone managed by the United Nations in Cyprus, according to UN officials.

The incident occurred when the peacekeepers parked their vehicles and formed a human chain to block the road construction, which aimed to connect the Turkish Cypriot village of Arsos with the Greek Cypriot-Turkish Cypriot village of Pyla.

The construction of the road in this sensitive area along the 120-mile buffer zone has raised concerns among Greek Cypriots who perceive it as having potential military implications. The buffer zone, which aims to maintain peace between Turkish Cypriots in the north and Greek Cypriots in the south, where the internationally recognized government is based, would be adversely affected by the road's construction.

Video footage of the incident was shocking, revealing Turkish Cypriots - some believed to be military or police officers in civilian attire - using bulldozers, diggers, and tractors to damage UN vehicles and forcibly remove them from the proposed route. The peacekeepers, outnumbered by the Turkish Cypriots, were physically assaulted with punches and shoves as they attempted to restrain the construction crews. Despite the provocation, the peacekeepers refrained from using force. Three peacekeepers required medical attention, and one sustained a broken nose.

The attack represents a significant escalation of tensions on the island, unseen for years. UNFICYP, the peacekeeping force involved, stated that threats against peacekeepers and damage to UN property are unacceptable and will be treated as serious crimes under international law. They emphasize their commitment to blocking the road construction using non-violent means, as it violates the mandate of maintaining the status quo in the buffer zone.

The assaults prompted condemnation from various quarters, including EU Council President Charles Michel and the EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, who called for the situation to be de-escalated. The UK, France, and the United Nations issued a joint statement expressing deep concern about the road construction and condemned the assaults as completely unacceptable. They urged an immediate halt to the construction work.

The incident serves as a reminder of the delicate balance in Cyprus and the ongoing challenges to achieving a lasting resolution between the two communities. Efforts to restore trust and ensure the peaceful coexistence of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots must prevail over actions that exacerbate tensions and jeopardize the UN's peacekeeping mission in the region.

According to information obtained by the Cyprus News Agency (CNA), UN Special representative Colin Stewart is “in communication with both sides of the island as well as with the governments of countries in the UN Security Council in order to avoid further tensions and settle this issue through dialogue”.

They added that “a diplomatic issue is underway to resolve the issue”.

In addition, they said Unficyp “expresses its commitment to continue to prevent the construction of the road”.

The north’s self-declared 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus foreign minister spoke to local television on the issue on Friday afternoon, accusing the UN of “playing for time” on the issue.

He said there was “no ulterior motive” to the construction project and said the UN Security Council is “not a Turkish Cypriot-friendly organisation”.

He then promised the project will be completed.

In an earlier statement, Unficyp condemned assaults against UN peacekeepers and damage to UN vehicles by personnel from the Turkish Cypriot side early on Friday.

“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,” an announcement said.

Unficyp 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 mission said it was monitoring the situation closely and remains committed to ensuring calm and stability are maintained in the area.

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