Turkey’s president on Monday criticized U.N. peacekeepers for blocking the construction of a road in ethnically divided Cyprus, calling the action “unacceptable” and accusing the peacekeeping force of bias against Turkish Cypriots.
Speaking after a Cabinet meeting, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would not allow any “unlawful” behavior toward ethnic Turks on Cyprus, where his country maintains more than 35,000 troops in the Mediterranean island nation ’s breakaway northern third.
Angry Turkish Cypriots last week punched and kicked a group of international peacekeepers that blocked crews working on a road that would encroach on the island’s U.N.-controlled buffer zone. The road is designed to connect the village of Arsos, located in the Turkish Cypriot north, with the multi-ethnic village of Pyla, which is located inside the buffer zone and abuts the Greek Cypriot south, where the island’s internationally recognized government is seated.
“Preventing the Turkish Cypriots living in Pyla from reaching their own land is neither legal nor humane,” Erdogan said. “The peacekeeping force has overshadowed its impartiality with both the physical intervention against the villagers and the unfortunate statements it made after the intervention and has damaged its reputation on this island.”
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’s construction as a move with a military purpose at a sensitive spot along the buffer zone, which spans 180 kilometers (112 miles).
Turkey has described the road as a “humanitarian” project for the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot residents of Pyla.
“What is expected of the United Nations peacekeeping force is that it does justice to its name and contributes to finding a solution to the humanitarian needs of all sides on the island,” Erdogan said. “We will not consent to fait accompli and unlawfulness on the island.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has condemned the assault on the peacekeepers and stressed that “threats to the safety of U.N. peacekeepers and damage to U.N. property are unacceptable and may constitute serious crimes under international law.”
The European Union and the embassies of the U.K. and France also criticized the attack.
Maintaining the status quo of the buffer zone is enshrined in the U.N. mission’s mandate since 1974, when Turkey invaded Cyprus in the wake of a coup mounted by Greek junta-backed supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence.
The U.N. says both sides have repeatedly infringed on the buffer zone over the years. The dispute over the road is likely to hamper the Cypriot government’s efforts to restart negotiations to resolve the island’s division.
Sarbanes: Erdogan accountable for Pyla assault
The incident comes at the worst time for Erdogan, who needs to improve relations with Greece and Greek Cypriots to make any progress with EU rapprochement. The prize is huge. A green light by EU Commission on reengaging Turkey to leaders in a report to be published in October, could give the pro-Turkey Axis in EU to start talking about a new and expanded Customs Union Treaty. However, peace in Cyprus and progress towards Copenhagen Criteria remain EU’s red lines, which the incident in Cyprus underline.
Erdogan also needs support from US Congress for Biden to approve Turkey’s huge F-16 order. Yet, US Representative John Sarbanes holds Turkish President Erdogan accountable for the attacks by Turkish Cypriots against UN peacekeepers in Pyla and calls on US President Joe Biden to ensure that the crisis is “meaningfully addressed” by the United Nations.
“I hold Turkish President Erdogan accountable for this assault and consider it part of the pattern of provocation and destabilizing conduct that, among other things, argues against sending F-16s to Turkey,” Sarbanes said in a statement.
At home, AKP’s nationalist partner MHP was extremely angry at UN which could complicate a new round of reunification talks.
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