A couple of incidents that took place in the buffer zone are making headlines in Cyprus, including allegations that Turkish soldiers violated the green line, with UN peacekeepers saying they were investigating but also urging caution before drawing conclusions.
A 30-year-old Greek Cypriot farmer says armed Turkish soldiers on Monday afternoon breached the UN buffer zone in Denia, Nicosia district, and forced him out of an area where he takes livestock to graze.
Local media posted a video recorded by the farmer showing armed soldiers in a distance walking towards the Greek Cypriot man as he appeared to be driving away.
Denia community leader Christakis Panayiotou, who spoke on state radio Tuesday morning, suggested the Turkish soldiers had entered the buffer zone.
UN regulations prohibit military personnel from the two communities to enter the buffer zone while armed. But it was not clear in the video whether soldiers had entered the buffer zone.
The United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus did not provide details of the incident but wrote on Twitter that the incident was under investigation.
“We need to allow the investigation to be completed before making any conclusions. The safety of civilians inside the UN buffer zone remains our top priority,” UNFICYP said.
UNFICYP fires back at ANT1 report on casino raids in Pyla
UN officials also took issue with another incident reported over the weekend by ANT1, which said UNFICYP had failed to alert Greek Cypriot authorities about several raids in illegal casinos in Pyla, a mixed village inside the buffer zone.
The suspect in the investigation was as Turkish Cypriot male while the Greek Cypriot network reported that UNFICYP had requested a doctor and a hospital to be on standby in the north.
The video appeared to show one of the soldiers picking up a rock and throwing it in the direction of the vehicle at the moment when the farmer was stepping on the gas to drive away
ANT1 also noted “this is the first time that the legal authorities of the Republic not only were excluded but were also kept out of the loop.”
UNFICYP took issue with the news story and fired back on Twitter, saying they “need to work with both sides to maintain law & order inside the #UN buffer zone.”
“CyPol was informed promptly. UNFICYP remains impartial in dealing with both sides at all times,” the tweet said on Sunday.
UNFICYP the following day retweeted a general post by the United Nations that called on users to do their due diligence before sharing information online.
The same tweet was retweeted again on Monday following the Denia story.
Monday’s video also appeared to show one of the soldiers picking up a rock and throwing it in the direction of the vehicle at the moment when the farmer was stepping on the gas to drive away.
“They were shouting at him and throwing stones until they finally forced him to leave. When this happened, he called us on the phone and recorded the video,” Panayiotou said.
Asked by the radio host whether he called the UN about the incident before going to the media, Panayiotou replied “I dialed the numbers that I had available but nobody got back to me.”
The Cyprus News Agency reported that a complaint had been launched with the Foreign Ministry, the United Nations, and the National Guard.
Panayiotou also raised the issue of “why are such incidents taking place in Denia but not in nearby areas?” He called for “drastic measures” and urged the United Nations to “do what they promised in 1974,” clarifying that he meant the UN should provide security for local residents in the area.
“The UN is there just for decoration,” Panayiotou said, adding that their presence in the buffer zone boiled down to patrols passing through the area every 2-3 hours.
Farmer has history with Turkish encounters
Knews understands this was not the first encounter between the specific farmer and Turkish forces.
Earlier this year a similar incident took place when local media reported that a Greek Cypriot farmer was asked by armed Turkish soldiers to leave the area.
It was not immediately clear what preceded the encounters but local media back in February said fellow Greek Cypriots had called on the farmer to step back.
UNFICYP officials said at the time that the incident “was resolved peacefully” while it was never established that soldiers had entered the buffer zone.
UN worried farmers move too close to ceasefire line
A UN report in July 2022 said “most of these incidents were triggered by Greek Cypriot farmers moving close to the northern ceasefire line, and sometimes beyond it, triggering a hostile reaction by the Turkish or Turkish Cypriot forces, which, in turn, on occasion moved temporarily into the buffer zone.”
Panayiotou confirmed that Monday’s incident involved a valid permit held by the farmer that was issued by the UN so that he could engage in lawful activities inside the buffer zone.
The community leader said the farmer was in need of space to take his livestock to graze due to high prices in animal feed.
Denia covers a large area of the buffer zone, with farmland and military boundaries often being very close to each other.
But Panayiotou condemned the lack of UN posts in the area.
“If something happens and they are in the area, they will step in, otherwise they get notified later,” Panayiotou said.
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.