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United Nations Peace-keeping Force in Cyprus


United Nations troops manning an observation post looking across the Mesaoria
Courtesy United Nations

United Nations (UN) troops were present on Cyprus beginning with the breakdown of the constitutional arrangements in 1964. The original three-month UNFICYP mandate was extended, initially at three-month intervals and, after 1974, at six-month intervals. Any of the permanent members of the UN Security Council could veto its continuation, but none has ever done so. The Security Council repeatedly affirmed the original mandate and adopted a number of resolutions that required the force to perform additional or modified functions. The basic mandate called on UNFICYP to operate "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 UNFICYP force level was maintained at about 4,500 from 1965 to 1968, and 3,500 from 1969 to 1972. Except for a temporary increase to 4,440 for a period after the 1974 fighting, its size gradually declined, reaching about 2,000 as of 1990.

Before 1974 UNFICYP troops were deployed throughout the island, between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot defense positions. Frequently UN soldiers acted as mediators to prevent minor squabbles from leading to armed conflict. Only rarely was force, or even the threat of force, necessary in these efforts. In 1974, however, UNFICYP was unable to prevent either the attack against Makarios or the Turkish intervention (operations that, in any case, exceeded both its mandate and its military preparedness.) During the fighting, though, UN troops took up positions at Nicosia International Airport, preventing either side from capturing this strategic location. UNFICYP also played an essential role in the exchange of prisoners. After the hostilities, all UN personnel moved back into the buffer zone between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot cease-fire lines.

Through a system of 146 observation posts, 54 of them permanently manned, in addition to mobile and standing patrols, the buffer zone was kept under constant surveillance. A patrol and communications track running the entire length of the buffer zone was used for reconnaissance, monitoring of agricultural activities in the zone, resupply of observation posts, and rapid reaction to any incidents. Regular patrols were generally conducted in Land Rovers or similar vehicles. Armored scout cars formed a reserve, and British helicopters were also available if needed. In 1989 both sides accepted a UNFICYP proposal to dismantle their forward military positions in Nicosia and cease patrolling in three sensitive areas of the city, to reduce the risk of incidents.

In April 1989, command of UNFICYP was assumed by Major General Clive Milner of Canada. The head of each national contingent in the UN force was directly responsible to the UNFICYP commander, as was the chief of staff, who oversaw the headquarters staff and the various support units. Each national contingent operated as a unit in prescribed areas in the buffer zone; only at headquarters did personnel from different nations work together on a daily basis. As of 1990, Britain provided 742 soldiers, Canada 575, Austria 410, and Denmark 342. The Irish, Finnish, and Swedish contingents had been reduced to token numbers in 1973, 1977, and 1988, respectively. The main British, Canadian, Austrian, and Danish units were organized as infantry battalions. All seven participating countries supplied military police and headquarters personnel. In addition, Britain furnished a nineteen-member scout car squadron and most of the UNFICYP support units. Austria and Sweden supplied the thirty-five-member civilian police contingent under UNFICYP control.

Each contingent wore the standard uniform of its home country, although UNFICYP personnel wore distinctive blue headgear, blue UN sleeve emblems, and a variety of UN-issued accessories. Each contingent rotated its troops every six months, although a small number of staff personnel undertook longer tours of duty. Salaries were based on those in each contingent's home country and were paid by the home countries. The cost of maintaining UNFICYP came to about US$26 million in 1989, including operational expenses, transport, pay and allowances above what would have been incurred if contingents were serving at home, and salaries and travel of nonmilitary personnel. Funds for these expenses depended entirely on voluntary contributions by UN member states. These contributions, however, had never been sufficient. Reimbursement claims of troop-contributing countries had been met only to June 1980. The accumulated deficit was nearly US$175 million by the close of 1989.

UNFICYP personnel functioned in several capacities in addition to monitoring the cease-fire lines. They provided security for farmers from both Cypriot communities who lived and worked within the buffer zone. They visited Turkish Cypriots in the south and Greek Cypriots in the north to ensure their safety and welfare, and arranged temporary visits and reunions of relatives. UNFICYP commanders held meetings with commanders of the National Guard and of the Turkish forces as required, and meetings were held with both sides at the chief-of-staff level at regular intervals. The civilian police contingent of UNFICYP functioned as a liaison between the two communities' police forces and maintained law and order in the buffer zone.

Data as of January 1991

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