A recent decision by UN Peacekeepers in Cyprus to okay the launch of renovation work on a Turkish Cypriot football pitch in the buffer zone has angered Greek Cypriots, who view the process as an effort by the north to score a point against the south.
According to the Cyprus News Agency, Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides called up the head of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus on Friday to express "strong discomfort” with the way peacekeepers have been carrying out their mandate on the divided island.
UNFICYP head Colin Stewart, who was unable to attend a meeting with Kasoulides in the south, got an earful over the phone when the minister told the Canadian diplomat that this was “creating all sorts of problems and complications” mainly at the expense of the Greek Cypriots.
Local media said Greek Cypriots were concerned that lack of consultation with the Republic of Cyprus in the south was a breach of UN protocol.
Stewart got an earful over the phone when Kasoulides told the Canadian diplomat this was creating all sorts of problems and complications mainly at the expense of the Greek Cypriot side
The phone call took place following criticism in local media over a renovation project at the Taksim football pitch in the buffer zone, opposite Ledra Palace in divided Nicosia.
On Wednesday work began on the Taksim football pitch, which is owned by Cetinkaya Turkish Sports Club, with Turkish Cypriot official Tahsin Ertugruloglu going on local radio in the north to say an agreement had been reached to push forward despite some remaining issues with the UN.
Ertugruloglu, who oversees foreign matters in the north, said reconversion work was necessary because the pitch had been out of use due to activities by the North Cyprus Automobile Touring Association.
But Greek Cypriot media said officials in the south viewed the process as an effort by Turkish Cypriots to create a fait accompli after the Turkish Ministry of Youth and Athletics made good on its promise to sponsor the project.
Last month Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on the international community to stop imposing sanctions on northern Cyprus. Turkish Cypriots have also been asking for the UN to talk directly with them on the terms and conditions of peacekeeping on the island, a move that is anathema to Greek Cypriots who perceive this as a recognition of the breakaway north.
But UNFICYP spokesperson Aleem Siddique says renovating Taksim did not mean there was any change of status quo.
“The area will be used for football training only, as it has been done in the past, with strict regulations in place to manage its use and protect its status within the buffer zone,” Siddique was quoted as saying on Wednesday.
“Any claim that the status of the football pitch within the UN buffer zone will change is wrong and misleading,” UNFICYP further stated on Twitter.
Ertugruloglu echoed those comments by saying the process had been “prolonged due to unexpected reactions” by the United Nations on “very small issues.”
But the Turkish Cypriot official admitted one remaining issue with the Taksim football pitch renovation was the height of the fence looking south.
Ertugruloglu told BRT radio that Turkish Cypriots believe 6 meters would be the required minimum height for the fence.
“The fence issue that needs to be erected behind the goal post is blocked. We want the fence to be high in order to prevent the football from going to the other side,” the official said.
But the south is playing hardball with a Greek Cypriot statement calling on “actions that could be exploited by the Turkish Cypriots to upgrade the separatist entity should be avoided.”
CNA reported that Kasoulides told Stewart, who also serves as a UN special representative, that “the Republic of Cyprus will not tolerate anyone misunderstanding and perceiving as weakness the constructive disposition” of the Greek Cypriot side, which has “made sincere efforts to build a climate of trust between the two communities.”
UNFICYP was established in March 1964 in an attempt to prevent the recurrence of interethnic violence between the two major ethnic communities on the island, which remains divided between a recognized south in the Republic of Cyprus governed by Greek Cypriots and a Turkish Cypriot north not recognized by any country except Turkey.