Expected Council Action
In December, the Council is expected to extend the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, UNFICYP, for another six months. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, Lisa Buttenheim, is expected to brief Council members in informal consultations. A Secretary-General’s report on UNFICYP is due on 1 December.
Key Recent Developments
The UN-facilitated reunification talks between Turkish Cypriot leader Derviş Eroğlu and Greek Cypriot president Demetris Christofias recently reached an impasse over the property issue, which is considered one of the most difficult of the items under discussion. (The talks have focused on this issue since they resumed in May after Eroğlu’s election. The other issues on the agenda are governance and power sharing; EU matters; economic matters; territory; and security arrangements and guarantees. On the first three of these, there appears to be some convergence.)
The property issue arises from numerous complex claims relating to private property abandoned because of the conflict between the two communities. As much as 80 percent of the property in the north was owned by Greek Cypriots who now live in the south. Greek Cypriots insist that the original owners should be able to reclaim the property left behind, whereas Turkish Cypriots argue that the current occupiers should be able to keep the property and that the original owners should instead receive compensation.
A Greek Cypriot proposal to link the property issue with the issues of territorial adjustment and open the port of Famagusta to external trade under EU supervision has reportedly been rejected by the Turkish Cypriot side.
On 18 November, the Secretary-General held a tripartite meeting in New York with Christofias and Eroğlu to bring new momentum to the process. At a press conference following the meeting, the Secretary-General said both leaders recognised the need to “move more quickly and decisively” to reach a settlement and agreed to intensify their contacts in the coming weeks. They also agreed to meet with the Secretary-General again in Geneva at the end of January.
In separate comments to the press, Christofias said he was satisfied with the meeting. He pointed out that no time frames had been established and that the Secretary-General had not attempted to exert pressure.
On 30 November, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alexander Downer, briefed Council members in informal consultations on the 24 November good offices report. The report concludes that progress in the talks has been “frustratingly slow” and that a “critical window of opportunity is rapidly closing” and calls for the two leaders to come fully prepared to the January meeting to overcome remaining differences. Among its recommendations, the Secretary-General expressed his intention to conduct an assessment of the UN presence in Cyprus with a view to propose adjustments based on developments in the talks.
A related issue is whether it is appropriate at this time to signal the beginning of an exit strategy for UNFICYP.
Another option is to include language in the resolution seeking to encourage the parties to reach a settlement, emphasising that the process cannot be indefinite, perhaps signalling the need for benchmarks and extending UNFICYP’s mandate for a more limited period and expressing support for an assessment of the UN presence in Cyprus as recommended by the Secretary-General.
Council dynamics on this issue often reflect the relationship of various members with the Cypriot parties. Russia and to some extent France tend to support the Greek Cypriots who oppose any attempt to exert pressure on the parties. The UK is more sympathetic to the Turkish Cypriot side and seems less patient about continued UN involvement.
Resolutions on UNFICYP in the past have been discussed among the P5 before being circulated to elected members, a practice which is, in general, attracting growing criticism among the wider membership. At press time, Council members had just received Downer’s assessment of the status of the talks, and positions on the UNFICYP mandate renewal were still unclear.
Turkey has voted against the three UNFICYP resolutions adopted since it joined the Council and is expected to do so this time as well unless references to the Government of Cyprus as the sole government of the island are removed from the text.
The UK is the lead country on Cyprus in the Council.
Selected Security Council Resolution
Latest Reports from the Secretary-General