Cyprus: Vote on UNFICYP Mandate Renewal Resolution*
Tomorrow morning (30 January), the Security Council is scheduled to vote on a draft resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) for another year, until 31 January 2025.
The negotiations on the draft resolution appear to have been smooth, reflecting the Council’s united support for UNFICYP’s work. The UK, the penholder on Cyprus, circulated a first draft of the resolution on 17 January and convened one round of informal consultations on 19 January. It shared a revised draft on 22 January, inviting written comments by 24 January. The penholder then placed another revised draft under silence procedure on 25 January until 26 January, which was subsequently broken. Another draft with slight revisions was then placed under silence today (29 January). After passing the silence procedure, the draft resolution was put in blue this afternoon.
The draft text in blue renews UNFICYP without making any changes to the mission’s core mandate and tasks, which were most recently outlined in resolution 2674 of 30 January 2023. Some language was modified in the draft resolution to reflect recent developments.
The political process in Cyprus has traditionally been the central focus of UNFICYP’s mandate renewal negotiations. Over the past six months, there has been no meaningful progress on the political front and no direct formal engagement between the Cypriot leaders in the context of unification talks. Secretary-General António Guterres, in his latest mission of good offices in Cyprus report, which was issued on 3 January and covers the period from 13 June to 12 December 2023, said that “with every passing year…the divide between the sides is growing, gradually eroding the prospects of finding a mutually acceptable political settlement”.
In a notable development, on 5 January, the Secretary-General announced the appointment of María Angela Holguín Cuéllar, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Colombia, as his Personal Envoy on Cyprus. The announcement said that the envoy has been tasked with assuming a good offices role “to search for common ground on the way forward and to advise [Guterres] on the Cyprus issue”. On the same day, Türkiye’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a press release stating that Türkiye and the Turkish Cypriot side have given their consent to the personal envoy’s appointment on two conditions: that the envoy’s mandate be limited to “exploring whether common ground exists or not between the two sides…for the start of new, formal settlement negotiations” and that it not exceed six months.
Until Holguín’s appointment, Cyprus had been without a UN envoy since Jane Holl Lute’s resignation in September 2021. The process of appointing Lute’s successor had faced difficulties due to different preferences expressed by the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot sides regarding the envoy’s terms of reference and title, specifically whether the position should be a special envoy or a personal envoy. While special envoys are usually assigned to undertake special missions related to matters of which the Security Council or the General Assembly are seized, personal envoys undertake missions at the Secretary-General’s initiative. (For more information, see the brief on Cyprus in our January 2024 Monthly Forecast.)
The draft resolution in blue welcomes the Secretary-General’s appointment of a Personal Envoy on Cyprus and urges the sides to seize the opportunity presented by this development. It also encourages the two sides to engage constructively with the envoy in the search for common ground with the goal of returning to formal negotiations for a lasting settlement in Cyprus.
The draft resolution in blue contains new language addressing the clash that occurred in August 2023 between Turkish Cypriot construction and security personnel and UNFICYP peacekeepers in the plateau above the bicommunal buffer zone village of Pyla/Pile. According to the Secretary-General’s latest UNFICYP report, which was issued on 3 January and covers the period from 13 June to 12 December 2023, the developments in Pyla/Pile “dominated the mission’s efforts and relations between the sides for months”. On 17 August 2023, Turkish Cypriot personnel began working on the construction of a road connecting Pyla/Pile, which is located within the UN-controlled demilitarised zone known as the Green Line, to Turkish Cypriot-controlled areas. (The Green Line is the buffer zone that divides the two Cypriot communities, extending approximately 180 kilometres across the island.)
Under the instructions of Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Cyprus and Head of UNFICYP Colin Stewart, UNFICYP attempted to halt the construction by placing staffed physical barriers along the intended route. On 18 August 2023, 100 Turkish Cypriot construction and security personnel confronted a group of UNFICYP peacekeepers, challenging the mission’s presence in the buffer zone, according to the UNFICPY report. Four UNFICYP peacekeepers were injured and eight UN vehicles were damaged in the incident. The Secretary-General’s UNFICYP report emphasises that the events in Pyla/Pile “provided an example of how developments in the buffer zone can negatively affect the situation on the island” and the prospects for renewed political dialogue.
On 21 August 2023, at the UK’s request, Security Council members held a meeting on the situation in Cyprus under “any other business”. In a press statement issued following that meeting, Council members condemned the assault and reaffirmed their support for UNFICYP, particularly its mandated authority in, and delineation of, the buffer zone.
On 9 October 2023, Stewart announced that an understanding had been reached between the two Cypriot sides to resolve the situation in Pyla/Pile. Stewart briefed Council members on the details of the understanding during a 16 October 2023 meeting under “any other business”. While the UNFICYP report acknowledges that “new issues arose” during the understanding’s implementation, it stressed that the understanding “shows that constructive and fruitful discussions on issues of mutual concern are possible, even on sensitive issues”.
The draft resolution in blue recalls the 21 August 2023 press statement, welcomes Stewart’s engagement with all parties to reach an understanding regarding arrangements for the Pyla/Pile plateau, and urges all parties concerned to work constructively with UNFICYP to implement the Pyla/Pile understanding as an important confidence-building measure. The draft text also urges both sides and all involved parties to take steps to de-escalate tensions in and around the buffer zone and underlines the importance of respect for the buffer zone’s integrity and inviolability and UNFICYP’s mandated authority therein.
The Secretary-General’s UNFICYP report suggests that in the aftermath of the Pyla/Pile incident, UNFICYP “was the target of misinformation and disinformation alleging bias on the part of the mission, which posed a risk to its reputation and potentially even to the safety and security of the peacekeepers”. In light of these challenges, the draft text in blue underlines the importance of a proactive approach to strategic communications and requests UNFICYP to strengthen its existing efforts to monitor and to counter disinformation and misinformation.
During the negotiations, Council members apparently also discussed how to address the trend of increased militarisation of the buffer zone and the ceasefire lines, as indicated by the latest UNCIFYP report. The report states that UNFICYP’s authority in and around the buffer zone, including its delineation of the ceasefire lines that define the buffer zone, was challenged by both sides, leading to “a worsening trend of both military and other violations”. This trend is flagged as a “major concern for the prospects of a peaceful resolution of the Cyprus problem”. In this regard, the report underscores the need for UNFICYP to enhance its situational awareness in the buffer zone through technological means.
The draft resolution in blue condemns the continued violations of the military status quo along the ceasefire lines, the reported encroachment by both sides into the buffer zone, the challenges to the mission’s delineation of the buffer zone and the reported increase in the number and severity of military violations and unauthorised construction. The draft text welcomes UNFICYP’s use of relevant tools to enhance its situational awareness. It appears that, during the negotiations, some Council members proposed language specifying that such efforts to enhance the mission’s situational awareness should be within existing resources. Furthermore, after silence was broken on the draft resolution, operative language was added, noting that such initiatives should be undertaken in consultation with the parties, in accordance with established practices.
Post-Script: On 30 January, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2723, renewing the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) for another year, until 31 January 2025. The resolution welcomes the Secretary-General’s appointment of a Personal Envoy on Cyprus and encourages the two sides to engage constructively with the envoy in the search for common ground with the goal of returning to formal negotiations for a lasting settlement in Cyprus.