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26 May, 2024
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Pyla developments raise alarm in Nicosia

Turkish construction of road from Arsos to Pyla triggers dispute

Marina Economides

Marina Economides

For months, the intention of the Turkish side to occupy a part of the buffer zone in Nicosia has been known. They plan to construct a road from the village of Arso to Pyla. During this period, there has been intense diplomatic activity to prevent such action as it would create new facts on the ground within the buffer zone. This move is considered the most significant since 1974, with the size of the Pyla plateau being 400 times larger than the territory occupied in Strovilia. The situation raises serious concerns because:

• The message they are trying to convey is that Turkish forces control the status quo on the confrontation line and can overturn or challenge it at any time.

• The Turkish side gains a significant military advantage, making it easy to concentrate artillery and tanks in case of a potential military attack. The moving Turkish artillery located in Arso, considering new circumstances and possible hostilities, could threaten Larnaca Airport.

Several times, the Turkish side attempted to construct a road, but these attempts were rebuffed by UNFICYP. In 2016 and 2020, the Turkish military tried to control the Pyla plateau, and in 2021, they attempted to build a water pipeline in the area. The plans of the Turkish army continued in 2022 (March and August), involving the construction of storage facilities and a photovoltaic park. The justification provided by the Turkish side is that these moves are for humanitarian reasons and serve the residents of Pyla and Arso. The local population is served by the Pyla and Pergamos causeways, which are within the British Bases. However, according to Turkish Cypriots, the British are discriminating against them at the Pergamos causeway, unlike Greek Cypriots who enjoy privileges due to their EU membership.

Nicosia has been fully aware of Turkish intentions and has engaged in significant diplomatic efforts to reverse the situation. The Turkish intentions and Nicosia's concerns about the new developments were discussed during meetings between the Foreign Minister Konstantinos Kombos and the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. President Nicos Anastasiades has been active behind the scenes, communicating with permanent members of the Security Council and Brussels. The organized international response is not coincidental; it was underestimated by Ankara and the pseudostate. The EU's stance was strong through statements from the European Council, the Commission, and the European Parliament. The joint statement from the embassies of the three permanent members of the UN Security Council condemning the incidents in Pyla and calling for a halt to the road construction was significant. The Chinese Embassy in Cyprus also issued a similar statement. Of course, the reaction of the United States holds particular importance. The decision to renew the arms embargo was known to Nicosia for days, but its announcement today carried symbolic weight from Washington. The American Embassy in Cyprus has also instructed its citizens not to travel to the Occupied Areas. The question is whether this move by the US is a pressure tactic on the Turkish side or indicative of a genuine fear of escalation.

Nicosia hopes that the international reaction to these significant announcements will continue until the provocations are stopped. The situation in the buffer zone area of Pyla will be discussed in the closed session of the UN Security Council scheduled for Monday night. Nicosia expects strong verbal support for the Republic of Cyprus and condemnation of Turkish provocations. The Russian diplomats at the UN have asked for an extension until Monday to provide their perspective on the Security Council's announcement regarding Pyla. Colin Stewart, the UN's Special Representative in Cyprus, has been working to de-escalate the situation for a while, communicating with both sides and governments of Security Council members. There are already discussions about UN proposals acknowledging the constructive stance taken by Nicosia until now, not just in avoiding inflammatory statements but also in their willingness to find a solution. The injury of British peacekeepers by Turkish Cypriots and the threats from the Grey Wolves intensified the international community's reactions.

The question that arises, of course, after the recent incidents is the political implications of all these events. Diplomatic circles note that the timing is not unrelated to the Cyprus Issue and the unfolding developments. Besides the fact that the President of the Republic, Nikos Christodoulides, has expressed his readiness for a resumption of negotiations and is discussing his proposal for the appointment of an EU envoy to Cyprus, the next period is expected to see the arrival of the UN Secretary-General's representative in Cyprus and the UN General Assembly in New York, with Nikos Christodoulides having already proposed a trilateral meeting. Well-informed diplomatic sources highlight that Ankara wanted time to initiate a negotiation process and possibly used it as a way to buy time. However, this move seems to be in complete contradiction to the analysis that Turkey is turning towards the West, as well as with the flow of events and the atmosphere. The announcement by the three countries, which refers to "an urgent need for the UN Secretary-General to appoint an envoy and calls on both sides to remain flexible and open to taking steps towards restarting negotiations," also indicates the concern of the international community about the possibility of stagnation and the potential consequences it may cause.

The main sentiment is that Ankara underestimated the reactions of the international community, and as everything suggests, the cost of this move is not worth the benefit it theoretically could bring. Diplomatic sources already note that after these provocations, the side effects on other matters concerning Turkey and extending beyond the Cyprus Issue need to be considered. Discussions of Euro-Turkish issues and the resurgence of Greek-Turkish relations are being set in motion. It should not be ignored from the context that Turkey is one of the two countries, along with Hungary, that have not yet ratified Sweden's accession protocol to the Alliance, with Ankara, on its part, implying that this could possibly happen sometime in the coming autumn.

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

Cyprus  |  Nicosia  |  UN  |  Pyla  |  Turkey

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