Turkey accuses UN of losing its neutrality in Cyprus road spat

Security Council calls construction of road in buffer zone a violation of status quo; Turkish FM says council’s position ‘divorced from realities on ground’

A United Nations sign and barrels on the side of a road inside the UN buffer zone at the village of Pyla in Larnaca district of the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus, on August 21, 2023. (Petros Karadjias/AP)
A United Nations sign and barrels on the side of a road inside the UN buffer zone at the village of Pyla in Larnaca district of the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus, on August 21, 2023. (Petros Karadjias/AP)

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s foreign minister accused the United Nations on Tuesday of abandoning its position of neutrality in Cyprus after the Security Council criticized construction work by Turkish Cypriots inside the buffer zone of the ethnically divided island nation and condemned their assault on UN peacekeepers.

In a statement issued Monday, the Security Council described the road construction as a violation of the status quo that runs contrary to council resolutions. The statement came at the end of closed emergency consultations by the council’s 15 members.

Angry Turkish Cypriots last week punched and kicked a group of international peacekeepers that blocked crews working on a road that would encroach on the island’s UN-controlled buffer zone. The road is designed to connect the village of Arsos, in the Turkish Cypriot north, with the multi-ethnic village of Pyla, which is inside the buffer zone and abuts the Greek Cypriot south.

The Security Council welcomed the subsequent halt in construction by the Turkish Cypriot side and “underscored the need to avoid any further unilateral or escalatory actions by either party that could raise tensions on the island and harm prospects for a settlement,” the statement said.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry issued its own statement Tuesday, rejecting the council’s position and called it “divorced from the realities on the ground.”

“We believe that with this move, the United Nations has lost its neutrality,” Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan told reporters during a joint news conference with his Bulgarian counterpart later Tuesday.

Fidan maintained that Greek Cypriots had been allowed to go ahead with similar road construction projects.

“The road built by Greek Cypriots towards the Greek population in Pyla was never subjected to obstruction and condemnation by the United Nations,” he said. He accused the UN of acting “like a hawk” to block the Turkish Cypriots’ project.

A United Nations vehicle passes inside the UN buffer zone at the village of Pyla in Larnaca district of the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus, on August 21, 2023. (Petros Karadjias/AP)

Asked to respond to Turkey’s reaction, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stood by the work of United Nations peacekeepers in Cyprus and “was very clear in condemning the assault against those peacekeepers, as we condemn clearly any assault against any UN peacekeepers serving around the world.”

Cyprus was divided along ethnic lines in 1974 following a Turkish invasion that was triggered by a coup aimed at uniting the Mediterranean nation with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence for the island’s northern third, where Turkey maintains more than 35,000 troops, while the internationally recognized government of Cyprus is seated in the Greek Cypriot south.

For almost a half-century, a UN peacekeeping force known as UNFICYP has supervised a de facto cease-fire and maintained a 180-kilometer (112-mile) buffer between the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot forces in the north and the Greek Cypriot forces in the south.

The disputed road would give Turkish Cypriots direct access to Pyla by circumventing a checkpoint on the northern fringe of a British military base, one of two bases the UK retained after Cyprus gained independence from British colonial rule in 1960.

Turkey has described the road as a “humanitarian” project for the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot residents of Pyla. The Cyprus government perceives the project as having a military purpose at a sensitive location.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, left, speaks with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan during a round table meeting of the North Atlantic Council during a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, July 11, 2023. (Mindaugas Kulbis/AP)

Cyprus’ Foreign Ministry said Tuesday it was satisfied with the Security Council statement on what the government considers “a new, serious military breach” of the buffer zone. The ministry said Cyprus stands in full solidarity with the UN mission on the island.

“The strong reaction of the international community constitutes a clear response to the unfounded claims of the Turkish Cypriot leadership and Turkey and sends a strong message that such actions will not be accepted,” the ministry said.

Speaking after a Cabinet meeting late Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the actions of UN peacekeepers who blocked road construction “unacceptable” and accused the force of bias against Turkish Cypriots.

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