UN peacekeepers hurt in Cyprus buffer zone clash with Turkish forces

NICOSIA (Reuters) – Scuffles broke out between United Nations peacekeepers and Turkish Cypriot security forces in ethnically split Cyprus on Friday over unauthorised construction work in an area under U.N. control, the peacekeeping mission said.

U.N. peackeepers were manhandled by personnel in Turkish Cypriot police and military uniforms, a witness said. Turkish Cypriot bulldozers had moved U.N. trucks, cement bollards and barbed wire in the United Nations-administered buffer zone splitting the island.

The incident occurred in an area known as Sector 4, under control of a Slovakian military contingent. It was reinforced by British peackeepers.

A spokesperson for the U.N. mission said three peacekeepers were seriously injured and required hospitalisation.

“One was kicked to the ground,” the spokesperson, Aleem Siddique, said.

No shots were fired, however.

Friday’s incident was condemned by the United States, Britain and France, three of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

“These actions are completely unacceptable and undermine the ability of the UN to fulfil its peacekeeping mandate,” their embassies said in a joint statement.

The controversy is centred around plans by Turkish Cypriot authorities to build a road traversing the territory which the United Nations says is under its control.

The incident occurred in the area of Pyla, known as Pile in Turkish and which is located on the eastern end of the buffer zone. The 180 km (116 mile) corridor of land patrolled by the United Nations slices Cyprus east to west between opposing Turkish and Greek Cypriot sides.

Turkish Cypriot authorities are planning to build an 11.5 km road linking Pyla/Pile to a neighbouring community which lies in breakaway north Cyprus.

The United Nations had already expressed concerns over the move which disturbs the zone’s status quo. It had been in talks with Turkish Cypriot authorities over their plans, and work had started without the requisite agreement from the U.N., Siddique said.

“UNFICYP calls on the Turkish Cypriot side to respect the mission’s mandated authority inside the UN buffer zone, refrain from any actions that could escalate tensions further and to withdraw all personnel and machinery from the UN buffer zone immediately,” a statement from the U.N. peacekeeping operation in Cyprus, UNFICYP, said.

Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 after a brief Greek-inspired coup, and countless reunification efforts have failed.

UNFICYP is one of the oldest active peacekeeping missions worldwide, first dispatched to the island to quell violence between Greek and Turkish Cypriots in the 1960s.

(Writing By Michele Kambas; Editing by Angus MacSwan)