The 1967 crisis

Note: this history section is an online version of the chapter about UNFICYP in "The Blue Helmets - A Review of United Nations Peace-keeping," a United Nations publication. It covers the period from the establishment of UNFICYP in 1964 until 1996. 

In January 1967, General George Grivas, the Greek commander of the Cyprus National Guard, deployed a battalion of troops in the Kophinou area. These remained in place despite an understanding reached by UNFICYP with the local Turkish Cypriot commander to avoid incidents. As the National Guard unit was reinforced on 28 February, Turkish Cypriot fighters moved forward at nearby Ayios Theodhoros, where they also manhandled senior UNFICYP officers. There was severe friction between UNFICYP and Turkish Cypriot fighters in Kophinou, and the situation also deteriorated in the Paphos and Lefka districts.

In September 1967, the government announced a normalization programme that included the unmanning of armed posts and fortifications and complete freedom of movement, initially in the Paphos and Limassol districts. The Turkish Cypriot side assured UNFICYP that it would not seek to occupy the vacated positions.

In November 1967, the Cyprus police sought to resume the practice of patrolling Ayios Theodhoros, passing through the Turkish Cypriot quarter, and informed UNFICYP that the National Guard would, if necessary, escort the policemen. On 15 November, heavy fighting broke out, and the National Guard overran most of Ayios Theodhoros and part of Kophinou. The Turkish government protested to the Secretary-General, who requested the Cyprus and Greek governments to bring about a withdrawal of the National Guard from the areas it had occupied. The withdrawal was carried out on 16 November. On 18 and 19 November, there were several Turkish over flights of Cyprus, and armed clashes spread to the Kokkina and Kyrenia areas.

These events set off a severe political crisis. The Secretary-General appealed to the president of Cyprus and to the prime ministers of Greece and Turkey, on 22 and 24 November 1967, to avoid an outbreak of hostilities, and sent a personal representative to the three capitals. In the second appeal, the Secretary-General urged the three parties to agree upon a staged reduction and ultimate withdrawal of non-Cypriot armed forces, other than those of the United Nations, and he offered the assistance of UNFICYP in working out a programme of phased withdrawals and helping to maintain calm.

The Security Council met on 24 November and, after consultations with the representatives of the parties, unanimously approved a consensus statement noting with satisfaction the efforts of the Secretary-General and calling upon all the parties to assist and cooperate in keeping the peace.

On 3 December 1967, the Secretary-General addressed a third appeal to the president of Cyprus and to the prime ministers of Greece and Turkey, in which he called for Greece and Turkey to carry out an expeditious withdrawal of their forces in excess of their contingents in Cyprus. He added:

With regard to any further role that it might be considered desirable for UNFICYP to undertake, I gather that this could involve, subject to the necessary action by the Security Council, enlarging the mandate of the force so as to give it broader functions in regard to the realization of quiet and peace in Cyprus, including supervision of disarmament and the devising of practical arrangements to safeguard internal security, embracing the safety of all the people of Cyprus. My good offices in connection with such matters would, of course, be available to the parties on request.

All three governments welcomed the Secretary-General's appeal, and Turkey supported the enlargement of the UNFICYP mandate to include supervision of the disarmament in Cyprus of forces constituted after 1963. The Security Council, at a meeting on 22 December 1967, adopted resolution 244 (1967), by which, among other things, it noted the Secretary-General's three appeals and the replies of the three governments.

In response to the Secretary-General's appeals, Greece and Turkey reached an agreement under which Greek national troops were withdrawn from Cyprus between 8 December 1967 and 16 January 1968. However, as Greece and Turkey reached no agreement on the issue of reciprocity, UNFICYP did not take on the task of checking that no Greek or Turkish forces in excess of their respective contingents remained in Cyprus

At the same time, a formula was devised for informal meetings between Mr. Glafcos Clerides and Mr. Rauf R Denktash, representing the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, respectively. After an initial meeting in Beirut, Lebanon on 2 June, they held meetings in Nicosia.

The intercommunal security situation in Cyprus improved during 1968, and in January 1969, President Makarios confirmed that he intended to extend normalization measures, including freedom of movement for the Turkish Cypriots, throughout the island. The Secretary-General suggested that the Turkish Cypriot leadership should respond by allowing the free movement of Greek Cypriots through Turkish Cypriot areas, but this was not accepted. 

Arms imports

From the beginning of the Cyprus operation, the Secretary-General reported that the influx of arms and military equipment was a cause of concern for UNFICYP with regard to the discharge of its mandate. UNFICYP kept a careful watch on all imports of such arms and equipment, but the question whether it could take any additional action in this regard under resolution 186 (1964) remained a controversial one. An agreement was concluded on 10 September 1964 to have UNFICYP present at the unloading of military equipment at Famagusta and Limassol. Additional material was, however, being imported at Boghaz at that time, unobserved by UNFICYP.

The issue came to a head when it became known in December 1966 that the Cyprus government had imported a quantity of arms for distribution to the Cyprus police. On 12 January 1967, the Cyprus government indicated to the Secretary-General that the imported arms would not be distributed for the time being, that the Secretary-General would be advised in due time if their distribution should become necessary, and that, in the meantime, the Force Commander could make periodic inspections.

In March 1970, increasing tension within the Greek Cypriot community culminated in an attempt on the life of President Makarios and the subsequent killing of a former minister of the interior, Mr. Polycarpos Georghadjis.

Clandestine activity by pro-Enosis (union with Greece) elements continued in 1971, and in view of that, the government of Cyprus in January 1972 imported a large quantity of arms and ammunition. To minimize the resultant increase in tension, UNFICYP negotiated a provisional agreement on 10 March, whereby the Cyprus government undertook to place the imported arms in safekeeping and open to inspection by the Force Commander. On 21 April, the Secretary-General reported that an improved arrangement had been agreed upon, under which the weapons and munitions, except for the high explosives, would be stored in a fenced area within the perimeter of an UNFICYP camp. The fenced area would be in the charge of unarmed Cyprus police personnel, but control of the camp perimeter and access to it would be the responsibility of UNFICYP. The high explosive munitions were stored at Cyprus police headquarters, but the fuses were removed and stored at the UNFICYP camp. A system of double locks and keys was devised for both storage areas. [In the summer of 1999, the ammunition was handed over to the Cyprus government for destruction]

UNFICYP continued to carry out its functions under both these agreements until 1974. Subsequently, the responsibility for their security rested with UNFICYP alone and the Cyprus police had no involvement with them other than periodic verification carried out jointly with UNFICYP.

UNFICYP reductions

The consolidation of the security situation that was achieved by the beginning of 1965, however limited and tenuous, made possible a gradual reduction of the strength of UNFICYP. From a total (military personnel and police) of 6,275 in December 1964, the force was reduced one year later to 5,764, and to 4,610 by the end of 1966. The strength of the force in December 1967 was 4,737.

The general lessening of tension throughout the island in 1968, in addition to creating a favourable atmosphere for the Clerides/Denktash intercommunal talks, also led to a further significant reduction in the strength of the force. Steps were taken, in cooperation with the government of Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriot leadership, to ensure that the effectiveness of the force would not be adversely affected. Between April and December 1968, its strength was brought down to 3,708.

Further reductions took place gradually over the next two years; thereafter, the strength of UNFICYP from 1970 to 1972 remained stable at approximately 3,150. The strength of the Irish battalion was reduced from 420 to 150 during this period. In this connection, Austria, at the request of the Secretary-General, agreed in 1972 to augment its contingent, which had consisted of the UNFICYP field hospital and an UNCIVPOL unit, by providing also a battalion of 276 ground troops.

In October and November 1973, personnel of the Austrian, Finnish, Irish and Swedish contingents of UNFICYP were transferred to the Middle East to form the advance elements of the United Nations Emergency Force. Replacements for the Austrian, Finnish and Swedish personnel were promptly sent to Cyprus by the governments concerned; however, at the request of the Secretary-General, Ireland agreed to dispatch additional troops only to the Middle East, and the Irish contingent in Cyprus was reduced to a token detachment at UNFICYP headquarters.

A further reduction of 381 troops was made in the spring of 1974. However, this was soon overtaken by the events of July 1974, which made it necessary to increase the strength of the force once again.