Turkish Cypriots attack UN peacekeepers trying to halt road work inside divided Cyprus’ buffer zone

Aug 18, 2023, 4:21 AM | Updated: 7:00 am

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Angry Turkish Cypriots punched and kicked a group of international peacekeepers who obstructed crews working on a road that would encroach on a U.N.-controlled buffer zone in ethnically divided Cyprus, the U.N. said Friday.

It said the attack happened as peacekeepers stood in the way of work crews building a road to connect the village of Arsos, in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north, with the mixed Greek Cypriot-Turkish Cypriot village of Pyla, inside the buffer zone and abutting the Greek Cypriot south, where the island’s internationally recognized government is seated.

A video seen by The Associated Press showed scores of Turkish Cypriots accosting a much smaller group of Slovak and British U.N. soldiers trying to hold them back from starting work inside the buffer zone. Some peacekeepers suffered blows to the face as they linked arms to push back the advancing Turkish Cypriots. The U.N. said three soldiers had to be treated for minor injuries.

The violence constitutes a serious escalation of tensions not seen on the island in years.

The 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 that the U.K. retained after Cyprus gained independence from British colonial rule in 1960.

Greek Cypriots perceive the road construction as a move with a military purpose at a sensitive spot along the buffer zone that spans 180 kilometers (120 miles).

“Threats to the safety of U.N. peacekeepers and damage to U.N. property are unacceptable and constitute a serious crime under international law which will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” the peacekeeping force, known as UNFICYP, said in a statement.

UNFICYP spokesman Aleem Siddique told The Associated Press that the U.N. wouldn’t back down from continuing to “block or frustrate construction of the road by nonviolent means,” despite Friday’s assault. He said construction of the road would violate the forces’ mandate of maintaining the status quo inside the buffer zone.

Turkish Cypriot authorities blamed U.N. peacekeepers for the altercation, calling their actions “unacceptable” and dismissing the UNFICYP statement as “unfounded allegations.”

They accused UNFICYP of being “biased” toward the Turkish Cypriot side and said the force should “immediately cease” its efforts to physically obstruct construction of a “humanitarian” project.

EU Council President Charles Michel and the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell both condemned the assaults and urged a de-escalation of the situation.

The embassies of the U.K., France and the United Nations issued a joint statement expressing “serious concern” over construction of the road, calling for an immediate halt to the work and condemning the assaults as “completely unacceptable”.

Maintaining the status quo of the buffer zone is enshrined in the U.N. mission’s mandate since 1974, when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup mounted by Greek junta-backed supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey, which maintains more than 35,000 troops in the island’s northern third, recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence.

The U.N. says both sides have repeatedly infringed on the buffer zone over the years. But this road construction is seen by the Cyprus government as “an attempt at a very serious violation of the status quo.”

Cyprus government spokesman Constantinos Letymbiotis condemned what he called the “organized violence,” adding that the government is in touch with the U.N., the EU and other governments to prevent “Turkish designs.”

The situation is likely to hamper the Cypriot government’s efforts to restart negotiations to resolve the island’s division.


FILE - Deborah Moody, an administrative clerk at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Anchora...

Associated Press

Alaska election officials to recalculate signatures for ranked vote repeal measure after court order

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A state court judge on Friday disqualified numerous booklets used to gather signatures for an initiative that aims to repeal Alaska’s ranked choice voting system and gave elections officials a deadline to determine if the measure still had sufficient signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The decision by Superior Court […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

UN approves more transparent procedures for people and entities to get off its sanctions lists

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved more transparent procedures Friday for the hundreds of individuals, companies and other entities who are subject to U.N. sanctions and want to get off the blacklists. The resolution, co-sponsored by Malta and the United States, also authorizes the establishment of a new informal working […]

6 hours ago

FILE - Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee, D-Texas, speaks during a House Judiciary Committee meeting, Dec. 13...

Associated Press

Longtime US Rep Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, who had pancreatic cancer, has died

Longtime U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, who helped lead federal efforts to protect women from domestic violence and recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday, has died. She was 74. Lillie Conley, her chief of staff, confirmed Friday night that Jackson Lee, who had pancreatic cancer, had died. The Democrat had represented her Houston-based […]

6 hours ago

Stools line the bar at Elwood's Liquor and Tap on Thursday, July 18, 2024 in Milwaukee, Wis. This w...

Associated Press

Outside the RNC, small Milwaukee businesses and their regulars tried to salvage a sluggish week

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Jay Nelson was standing outside the convenience store he manages in downtown Milwaukee when one of his regular customers walked by on her daily stroll around the neighborhood. “I’ve been telling people to come and buy even just a bottle of wine,” she said, stretching out her arms. “I hope it helps.” […]

6 hours ago

Descendants of Nelson Bell, brothers Milford Fonza, front left, and Elmer Fonza, front right, surro...

Associated Press

In a California gold rush town, some Black families are fighting for land taken from their ancestors

COLOMA, Calif. (AP) — In a tiny town where the California gold rush began, Black families are seeking restitution for land that was taken from their ancestors to make way for a state park now frequented by fourth graders learning about the state’s history. Their efforts in Coloma, a town of around 300 people that’s […]

6 hours ago

An image of President Joe Biden is projected on a screen during the final night of the 2024 Republi...

Associated Press

Biden’s ability to win back skeptical Democrats tested at a perilous moment for his campaign

WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite a week of campaign stops, interviews and a determined insistence he is the best candidate to confront Republican Donald Trump, President Joe Biden’s efforts to revive his reelection bid and win over skeptical Democrats have done little to soften the push for him to exit the 2024 race. Biden has weighty […]

6 hours ago

Turkish Cypriots attack UN peacekeepers trying to halt road work inside divided Cyprus’ buffer zone