British UN Peacekeepers Assaulted by Turkish Cypriot Protesters in Buffer Zone Dispute

British UN Peacekeepers Assaulted by Turkish Cypriot Protesters in Buffer Zone Dispute

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In a concerning incident, British UN peacekeepers were physically assaulted as they attempted to prevent a group of Turkish Cypriots from constructing an unauthorized road through a United Nations-managed buffer zone in ethnically divided Cyprus.

The incident unfolded when the peacekeepers parked their vehicles and linked arms to halt the construction crew’s efforts to connect the village of Arsos in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north with the mixed Greek Cypriot-Turkish Cypriot village of Pyla.

Perceived Military Purpose and Buffer Zone Significance

The construction of the road has raised alarms among Greek Cypriots, who view it as a strategic move with potential military implications.

The buffer zone, spanning 120 miles, is a vital demilitarized area aimed at preventing conflicts between Turkish Cypriots in the northern region and Greek Cypriots in the southern region, where the internationally recognized government operates.

The proposed road’s trajectory through this sensitive buffer zone has heightened tensions.

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Violent Confrontation and UN Peacekeeper Response

Disturbing video footage captured the intensity of the clash, showing Turkish Cypriots, some allegedly in plainclothes as military or police personnel, utilizing bulldozers, diggers, and tractors to forcibly remove UN vehicles obstructing their planned route.

The peacekeepers attempted to restrain the construction crews without resorting to force, but they faced physical aggression, resulting in injuries.

Notably, three peacekeepers required medical attention, including one with a broken nose.

International Responses and Concerns

Approximately two dozen Turkish Cypriots were reportedly involved in the incident, outnumbering the small group of UN peacekeepers on the scene.

The violence represents a significant escalation of tensions on the island.

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The UN’s peacekeeping force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) issued a strong statement condemning the threats to peacekeepers’ safety and the damage to UN property, emphasizing that such actions are crimes under international law and will be prosecuted accordingly.

Continued Efforts to Prevent Construction and Diplomatic Initiatives

UNFICYP spokesperson Aleem Siddique affirmed the UN’s commitment to peacefully obstructing the road’s construction, emphasizing that the construction would violate the mandate of maintaining the buffer zone’s status quo.

EU Council President Charles Michel and foreign policy chief Josep Borrell condemned the violence and called for de-escalation.

The embassies of the UK, France, and the United Nations issued a joint statement expressing serious concern over the road construction and assaults while urging an immediate halt to the work.

Impact on Negotiations and Historical Context

The situation is likely to hinder the Cypriot government’s efforts to restart negotiations aimed at resolving the island’s long-standing division.

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The buffer zone, established by the UN since 1974 after Turkey’s invasion in response to a Greek military coup, remains a vivid symbol of the island’s division.

Despite occasional attempts to bridge the divide, the separation of communities persists, marked by limited economic, social, and political collaboration between the north and south.

Buffer Zone Infringements and Ongoing Challenges

Throughout the years, both sides have committed numerous violations within the buffer zone.

However, the recent attempt by Turkish Cypriots to build a road through the buffer zone is seen by the Cypriot government as a blatant violation of the established status quo.

The incident highlights the ongoing complexities of the Cyprus conflict and the challenges in maintaining stability and peace in the region.

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