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.
When UNFICYP was established in 1964, contingents were deployed throughout the island and an effort was made as far as possible to match their areas of responsibility (zones or districts) with the island's administrative district boundaries. This was meant to facilitate a close working relationship with Cyprus government district officers, and with the local Turkish Cypriot leaders.
All districts were covered according to the intensity of the armed confrontation. The capital, Nicosia, was initially manned by two UNFICYP contingents (Canadian and Finnish), organized in a single Nicosia zone under Canadian command. The districts of Kyrenia and Lefka were manned by one contingent each. The remaining two contingents covered the districts of Larnaca, Limassol and Paphos.
Over the years, there have been numerous redeployments of UNFICYP contingents to secure better use of available troops in relation to the requirements of the mandate and to cover any new areas of tension.
In Nicosia, UNFICYP troops were positioned for an observation role along the length of the "green line". In two other districts, Kyrenia and Lefka, United Nations posts were deployed between the two defense lines; observation and patrolling took place from those posts. On the rest of the island, UNFICYP troops were generally deployed in areas where confrontation was likely to arise, and they were so positioned as to enable them to interpose themselves between the opposing sides in areas of tension and wherever incidents might cause a recurrence of fighting. Observation squads, backed by mobile patrols, were regularly deployed into areas that were likely to be potential areas of trouble.
On the basis of the experience gained during the first six months of operation of the force, the Secretary-General in his report of 10 September 1964 summarized guiding principles, which remain in effect to this day, as follows:
"The Force is under the exclusive control and command of the United Nations at all times. The Commander of the Force is appointed by and responsible exclusively to the Secretary-General. The contingents comprising the Force are integral parts of it and take their orders exclusively from the Force Commander.
The Force undertakes no functions which are not consistent with the provisions of the Security Council's resolution of 4 March 1964. The troops of the Force carry arms which, however, are to be employed only for self-defense, should this become necessary in the discharge of its function, in the interest of preserving international peace and security, of seeking to prevent a recurrence of fighting, and contributing to the maintenance and restoration of law and order and a return to normal conditions. The personnel of the Force must act with restraint and with complete impartiality towards the members of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.
As regards the principle of self-defense, it is explained that the expression of self-defense includes the defense of United Nations posts, premises and vehicles under armed attack, as well as the support of other personnel of UNFICYP under armed attack. When acting in self-defense, the principle of minimum force shall always be applied and armed force will be used only when all peaceful means of persuasion have failed. The decision as to when force may be used in these circumstances rests with the Commander on the spot. Examples in which troops may be authorized to use force include attempts by force to compel them to withdraw from a position which they occupy under orders from their commanders, attempts by force to disarm them, and attempts by force to prevent them from carrying out their responsibilities as ordered by their commanders."
In view of the comprehensive functions of UNFICYP as laid down by the Security Council in resolution 186 (1964), the United Nations operation in Cyprus became involved, from its inception, in carrying out a vast array of activities that affected almost every aspect of life in Cyprus, often in difficult conditions. All of UNFICYP's functions were of necessity carried out in contact and consultation with the government of Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriot authorities, and also, on many occasions, with the governments of Greece and Turkey, and depended for their success on the cooperation of all concerned.
The legal framework of relations with the host government was provided on 31 March 1964, when the Secretary-General and the Foreign Minister of Cyprus concluded an exchange of letters constituting an agreement on the status of UNFICYP. From the outset, UNFICYP made arrangements for close and continuous liaison with the government of Cyprus and with the Turkish Cypriot leadership. Liaison was likewise maintained at various levels of the administrative and military establishments of both sides, including field military units in the areas of confrontation.
In situations of military confrontation, UNFICYP, not being empowered to impose its views on either party, of necessity negotiated with both, since the consent of both was and is required if peaceful solutions are to be found and violence averted. Time and again, communications, messages and appeals were sent to civilian leaders and military commanders of both sides in Cyprus, calling upon them to exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions, observe the ceasefire, cooperate with the force and contribute to a return to normal conditions. This was done either with regard to specific problems or, as in October and November 1964, in an effort to generate an across-the-board programme of action in pursuance of the mandate.
At the same time, the efforts of UNFICYP to carry out its mandate were impeded by the parties' conflicting interpretations of the duties of the force under that mandate. To the Cyprus government, UNFICYP's task was to assist it in ending the rebellion of the Turkish Cypriots and extending its authority over the entire territory of the Republic. To the Turkish Cypriots, a "return to normal conditions" meant having UNFICYP restore, by force if necessary, the status of the Turkish Cypriot community under the 1960 constitution, while the Cyprus government and its acts should not be taken as legal. The Secretary-General in his reports rejected both these interpretations, which, if followed, would have caused UNFICYP to affect basically the final settlement of the Cyprus problem. This he considered to be in the province of the mediator, not of UNFICYP.
Freedom of movement of UNFICYP
The agreement on the status of UNFICYP mentioned above provides for the freedom of movement of the force throughout Cyprus, subject to a minor qualification relating to large troop movements, and entitles UNFICYP to use roads, bridges, airfields, etc. Freedom of movement has been regarded from the outset as an essential condition for the proper functioning of the force; indeed, the function of preventing a recurrence of fighting depends for its implementation entirely on the freedom of movement of the military and police elements of UNFICYP. The force encountered many difficulties in this regard.
On 10 November 1964, the Force Commander reached an agreement with the commander of the Cyprus National Guard, declaring the whole island open to UNFICYP except for certain stipulated areas (covering about 1.65 per cent of the country) that were accessible only to the Force Commander or to senior officers of UNFICYP. Arrangements were also negotiated for UNFICYP access to the Limassol docks, were used by the Cyprus government for the importing of military stores. Also in November 1964, it was agreed that the Cyprus security forces would henceforth refrain from searching UNFICYP personnel and vehicles.
During 1965, the Force Commander carried out a thorough review of UNFICYP's reconnaissance procedures, with a view to reducing friction to a minimum. Nevertheless, incidents of obstruction and harassment of UNFICYP continued. In certain cases, these even involved firing at UNFICYP soldiers, manhandling of UNFICYP officers and other unacceptable practices. Both the National Guard and Turkish Cypriot fighters were involved in incidents of this kind, especially during periods of tension.