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UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP): Mandate Renewal

Tomorrow morning (30 January), the Security Council is expected to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) until 31 July 2018. The negotiations on the draft resolution, which was produced by the UK, the penholder on Cyprus, did not seem to be difficult. One round of negotiations was held last Wednesday (24 January) and the draft was put in blue on Monday (29 January) after no delegation broke silence.

The Council held consultations on Cyprus on 17 January during which Special Representative and head of UNFICYP Elizabeth Spehar briefed on the latest Secretary-General’s report, as well as on the report on the strategic review of the mission. During the consultations, Council members expressed unanimous support for the work of the UN mission and its good offices. Spehar also told the members that UNFICYP is ready to implement any recommendations of the strategic review that are endorsed by the Council.

As in previous cases, the current draft draws heavily on the main elements from the most recent UNFICYP resolution from July 2017 (S/RES/2369), although some new language was also included on several issues.

During the negotiations on the renewal of the mission’s mandate in July 2017, the US proposed that the Secretary-General conduct a review of the mission and provide recommendations on how the mission should be optimally configured to implement its existing mandate. This proposal was supported by the rest of the Council.

The negotiations on the mandate renewal of UNFICYP this time were mainly guided by the strategic review of the mission, carried out in November 2017. In the draft resolution in blue, the Council welcomes the review report and “endorses implementation of its recommendations within existing resources”.

The review report emphasised the importance of maintaining the preventive and deterrent role of UNFICYP and recommended a slight reduction in the actual military strength from the current 888 to 802 troops, while maintaining the authorised strength of 860 troops. In this way, although the number of troops will be reduced, there will be some room for an increase in case it is needed. The reason why the mission currently has 888 troops when the troop ceiling had been set at 860 troops is because the Council approved a modest increase of 28 additional troops in resolution 2263 in January 2016 at the request of the Secretary-General in order to support the military planning efforts in anticipation of a possible settlement in Cyprus.

It seems that the US wanted to keep the authorised and the actual troop numbers at the same level (i.e., 802 troops) and for this to be reflected in the draft. However, it seems that an agreement has been reached to maintain the initially proposed language on endorsing the recommendations of the report.

New language incorporated in the draft in blue supports the need for improving the mission’s capacity for liaison and engagement with the two sides, including through people to people contacts. This is consistent with the view expressed in the strategic assessment that UNFICYP plays an important role in resolving military and civilian incidents in the buffer zone, and that the mission’s liaison and engagement activities should be reinforced quantitatively, by allocating more human resources to it, and qualitatively, by redeploying resources from the headquarters to other sectors.

In addition to the strategic review, the collapse of the latest round of unification talks also provides a context for the current negotiations on the draft resolution. The talks, which lasted over two years, collapsed in July 2017 after an impasse could not be bridged on several issues, among which security and guarantees seemed to be the most contentious. In the report on his good offices mission regarding Cyprus issued in September 2017 (S/2017/814), the Secretary-General encouraged the Cypriot leaders to reflect on the way forward and seek ways to preserve the progress made so far in the talks. He also reiterated that the UN is ready to offer its good offices and support talks again should the Cypriot leaders request it.

An issue that has hampered the resumption of the talks was the preparation for presidential elections in Cyprus which took place this Sunday (28 January 2018). Nicos Anastasiades, the Greek Cypriot leader and current president of Cyprus, who participated in the latest round of negotiations and ran for reelection, has expressed his confidence that the unification talks would resume following the elections. Anastasiades won the first round of the elections, and having failed to get an overall majority vote will face his main contender, Stavros Malas, in run-off elections on 4 February.

Given the current political dynamics on the island, characterized by the election process and the collapse of the unification talks, the majority of Council members seemed to share the view that the main message from the Council should be to call for both sides to renew their commitment to a settlement. Language has been incorporated in the draft in blue that urges the parties to “renew their political will” and further develop confidence-building measures “based on a shared vision for the future and joint actions”. Furthermore, the draft urges the sides “to promote inter-communal contacts, exchange, and co-operation”.

Enhanced language on the participation of women and youth was also included in the draft. For example, at the request of Sweden, the draft expands the language on the importance of participation of women in the political process and also references resolution 1325. Furthermore, based on proposals from two elected members, the draft stresses the importance of the participation of youth in line with resolution 2250.

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