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.
Since its establishment in 1964, the main objective of the United Nations operation in Cyprus, as of all other United Nations peacekeeping operations, has been to foster peaceful conditions in which the search for an agreed, just and lasting settlement of the problem could best be pursued. The main instrument for maintaining calm and preventing strife on the island has been and remains the United Nations peacekeeping force, which continues effectively to carry out its task of conflict control. Accordingly, the Secretary-General has reported to the Security Council, at the end of every six-month mandate period, that in the light of the situation on the ground and of political developments, the continued presence of UNFICYP remains indispensable, both in helping to maintain calm on the island and in creating the best conditions for his good offices efforts. For its part, the Security Council has regularly extended the mandate of the force for six-month periods.
Until June 1983, the parties concerned consistently informed the Secretary-General of their concurrence in the proposed extension of the stationing of the force on the island. Following the Turkish Cypriot proclamation on 15 November 1983 of the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus", which was deplored and considered legally invalid by the Security Council, the government of Cyprus as well as the governments of Greece and the United Kingdom have continued to indicate their concurrence, but Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community have indicated that the text of the resolution was unacceptable as a basis for extending the mandate. Nonetheless, all the parties have continued to cooperate with UNFICYP, both on military and the civilian levels.
The function of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus was originally defined by the Security Council in its resolution 186 (1964) of 4 March 1964 in the following terms: "in the interest of preserving international peace and security, to use its best efforts to prevent a recurrence of fighting and, as necessary, to contribute to the maintenance and restoration of law and order and a return to normal conditions".
The Security Council has periodically extended that mandate, which was conceived in the context of the confrontation between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities in 1964. In connection with the hostilities in July and August 1974, the Security Council adopted a number of resolutions, which have affected the functioning of UNFICYP and have required the force to perform certain additional functions relating, in particular, to the maintenance of the ceasefire.
That ceasefire came into effect at 18.00 on 16 August 1974. Immediately afterwards, UNFICYP inspected the areas of confrontation and recorded the deployment of the military forces on both sides. Lines drawn between the forward defended localities became respectively the National Guard and Turkish forces' ceasefire lines. In the absence of a formal ceasefire agreement, the military status quo, as recorded by UNFICYP at the time, became the standard by which it was judged whether any changes constituted violations of the ceasefire. The military status quo was subsequently clarified further and adjusted in numerous local agreements between the units of UNFICYP and of the sides concerned. Most of those agreements were eventually consolidated in a simple set of rules, which UNFICYP communicated to the military forces on both sides in early 1989.
It is an essential feature of the ceasefire that neither side can exercise authority or jurisdiction or make any military moves beyond its own forward military lines. In the area between the lines, which is known as the United Nations buffer zone, UNFICYP maintains the status quo (including innocent civilian activity and the exercise of property rights) without prejudice to an eventual political settlement concerning the disposition of the area. UNFICYP discharges its responsibilities in that area, with a view to safeguarding the legitimate security requirements of both sides, while giving due regard to humanitarian considerations.
The ceasefire lines extend approximately 180 kilometers from Kato Pyrgos on the northwest coast to the east coast at Dherinia. The United Nations buffer zone between the lines varies in width from less than 20 meters in Nicosia to some 7 kilometers near Athienou. It covers about 3 per cent of the island, including some of the most valuable agricultural land.
UNFICYP keeps the ceasefire lines and the buffer zone under constant surveillance through a system of observation posts and patrols. High-powered binoculars and night observation devices are used in this work. The force maintains a patrol track, which runs the length of the buffer zone and is used for surveillance, monitoring of agricultural activities, the crisply of observation posts and rapid reaction to any incidents.
In Nicosia, the ceasefire lines of the two sides are in close proximity and, consequently, the most serious incidents have tended to occur there. In May 1989, UNFICYP reached an agreement with both sides whereby they unmanned their positions and ceased their patrols in certain sensitive locations. The opposing troops were thus moved further apart, although the ceasefire lines were left unchanged. As a result, the number of incidents in Nicosia has been reduced. UNFICYP has continued its efforts to extend the 1989 agreement to all areas of the buffer zone where the troops of both sides remain in close proximity to each other.
Both sides on the island have frequently expressed concern about the strength and development of the military forces of the other side. This subject is of concern to UNFICYP as well, and it has proposed to both sides that it conduct inspections to verify such developments. In the absence of any agreement on this proposal, UNFICYP monitors the opposing forces by overt means to the best of its ability.
In accordance with its mandate, UNFICYP encourages the fullest possible resumption of normal civilian activity in the buffer zone. To this end, four villages and certain other areas in the buffer zone have been designated as civilian use areas, which means that they are freely accessible and are policed by local civilian police. Elsewhere in the buffer zone, no civilian movement or activity is permitted unless specifically authorized by UNFICYP. In Nicosia, in view of the security implications, such authorization is given only with the concurrence of both sides. The main civilian activity in the buffer zone is farming.
UNFICYP provides its good offices, as necessary, in regard to the supply of electricity and water across the lines, facilitates normal contacts between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots by making available meeting facilities, provides emergency medical services, including medical evacuations, and delivers mail and Red Cross messages across the ceasefire lines.
UNFICYP discharges certain humanitarian functions for the Greek Cypriots living in the northern part of the island, mostly in the Karpas peninsula. The force delivers to them supplies provided by the Cyprus Government and the Cyprus Red Cross Society as well as pension and welfare payments. Further, UNFICYP personnel verify that any permanent transfers to the southern part of the island are voluntary. UNFICYP also delivers supplies to the Maronites living in three villages in the northern part of the island and generally assists them in humanitarian matters.
UNFICYP periodically visits Turkish Cypriots living in the southern part of the island and helps them maintain contact with their relatives in the north.
United Nations civilian police maintain close cooperation and liaison with the Cyprus police and the Turkish Cypriot police on matters having intercommunal aspects. Together with the line units they contribute to law and order in the buffer zone and assist in investigations and in the force's humanitarian activities.
UNFICYP cooperates with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as coordinator of United Nations humanitarian assistance to needy displaced persons in Cyprus, and with the United Nations Organization for Project Services, in particular to facilitate projects involving both communities.
In the first part of 1995, UNFICYP conducted a humanitarian review with regard to the living conditions of Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in the northern part of the island and of Turkish Cypriots living in the southern part. In June 1995, UNFICYP shared with the government of Cyprus and with the Turkish Cypriot authorities the outcome of its review and set out its concerns.
UNFICYP found that Turkish Cypriots living in the southern part of the island were not subject to a restrictive regime and under the law enjoyed the same rights as other citizens. At the same time, in several respects, it was found that Turkish Cypriots were often the victims of capricious discrimination and harassment and thus did not enjoy a fully normal life. With regard to Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in the northern part of the island, the review confirmed that those communities were the objects of very severe restrictions imposed by the Turkish Cypriot authorities, which curtailed the exercise of many basic freedoms and had the effect of ensuring that, inexorably with the passage of time, those communities would cease to exist in the northern part of the island.
UNFICYP discussed those issues extensively with the authorities on both sides and made a number of recommendations for remedial action by the government and by the Turkish Cypriot authorities respectively.