UN calls to slash Cyprus peacekeepers

Mr Annan has recommended cutting the force by almost one third just months after Greek Cypriot voters in the south shot down his plan for reunification with the north, which has been occupied by Turkey since 1974.

Mr Annan invested four years in crafting a plan to end the 30-year split, only to see Greek Cypriot voters reject it in April after what he alleged was a disinformation campaign led by President, Mr Tassos Papadopoulos.

Many residents of the south expressed fears that Mr Annan’s plan did not satisfy their security concerns about the Turkish troop presence, and the new draft UN report heightened those fears by calling for the cut in peacekeepers.

Mr Annan ordered an expert review after the south’s “disappointing” vote and the experts’ report said signs of peace on the ground warranted a reduction in the 1,200-strong UN force.

“The force could be reduced by about 30 per cent to an overall strength of 860 military personnel,” said the report, which had still not been formally presented to UN diplomats by late Wednesday this week.

“Any adjustment to the concept of operations and force levels implies some operational risk but that risk is assessed to be low,” it said.

Turkey invaded and occupied the northern third of the island in 1974 after a coup in Nicosia aimed at uniting Cyprus with Greece.

The peacekeeping force UNFICYP had already been on the island for a decade, taking up positions in 1964 to try to quell deadly violence and maintain the peace between the ethnic Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.

There are longer serving UN missions, but UNFICYP is the oldest peacekeeping force, as those before it only had observer and monitoring roles in Kashmir and the Middle East.

But the long-running, costly peace operation, already under scrutiny because of the almost total calm between the two sides, has been a target of renewed interest since Greek Cypriots voted overwhelmingly against Mr Annan’s plan.

In the draft, Mr Annan underlined that he would not send another envoy to carry on his “good offices” mission to try to hammer out a peace deal between the two sides.

After the details of the report were leaked to the press in Cyprus, Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister, Mr George Iacovou, said the situation did not justify a troop reduction. “Nothing has changed on the ground,” he said this week.

However, Nicosia was resigned to the fact that the force would be downsized.

“The role of UNFICYP has not changed, neither is there an effort to amend the resolution outlining its role. There will be a limited change in its deployment,” said Mr Iacovou.

Despite those concerns, the UN report said that the Greek Cypriots had proposed several confidence-building measures — including a suggestion in June to withdraw from positions around the Old Town of Nicosia, the divided capital.

“These proposals have yet to be taken up by the other side,” the draft of the report said.

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