Cheryl Pearce - In the buffer zone

Running time
5 min 27 sec
Date made
Copyright
Department of Veterans' Affairs

Transcript

We worked in the buffer zone. So our headquarters is in the buffer zone, in the protected area where the Nicosia airport was, or before it, was caught in the crossfire in 1974. And so we lived and breathed it every day. I was out in the buffer zone all the time. But the buffer zone is not like... You'd think the DMZ in Korea between North and South. It would be wonderful if it was free of everything, it was just hours to patrol.

But over time, in the trying to get to return to normal conditions, they had encouraged farming. And if you had owned property in the buffer zone pre-conflict and could prove it to the UN, you could go back and farm again. But then there was a lot of tensions between the farmers and the military, because the farmers would farm areas that were not theirs, and they would push right up to the northern ceasefire line.

And then they had the Turkish forces pushing back. And we had this guidance that they were not to farm within the 200 meters of the south of the northern ceasefire line. You can't enforce that. Politically, there was no appetite to enforce it. And so they would creep really closely because there was financial gain for the Greek Cypriot farmers to take as much land as they could. And land was really important for sides. Turf was their number one priority. And then you would have unauthorised constructions.

Then you would have military move forwards, which were violations. And then you had... They weren't to do any constructions on their observation posts, but that always occurred as well, because this is a legacy mission. If you made an observation post with a tower and it was all sandbagged, you could do like for like. But a position that you made in 1974 is not going to be stable now. So it's how do you replace like for like without doing upgrades? And as the tensions rose between the sides, the fortifications that both sides did were significant.

You can report the violation, but then how do you deescalate it? And that's a political... So it's a really work to, yes, we'll report violations. Yes, we're in the ground all the time. Yes, I'm doing the engagement with the opposing forces. But unless there's a political will to want to find a way forward, it's very difficult to deescalate the military component of it, of both sides. Because for the Turkish forces, we had one element that worked back to Ankara, the Turkish mainland army, who came in and depending on the narrative from which side, if you ask the Turkish forces, they conducted an intervention. But if you ask the Cypriot forces, they invaded.

So the narrative that both sides have of the same currents, the same conflict is very different. And so you'll never be able to find that commonality in a narrative of a way forward. So it's how do the two leaders politically in the North and the South find a political solution, and how do we continue to deescalate? So when I left in the beginning of 2021, the tensions were high. You've got a regional security issue.

The tensions in the region between Turkey and Greece... Turkey and Libya had an MOU, but then you had Greece, Israel, and Egypt. And then you had the EU, who was concerned. You had the UK, who was guarantor nation, also had their sovereign bases in Cyprus, was very much actively involved as well. And then the EU and Turkey. So the regional security was quite fragile. So that what you're trying to do is then trying to hold stability in Cyprus.

Knowing what's happening in the region, you're trying to keep the common stability in Cyprus. And then what is an acceptable level of tension, and then how do you find... It's very complex. How do you then find a way to just hold that and work with both sides, not to escalate it into conflict on the ground?

And so, yeah, it's trying to find, again, that sweet spot of supporting SRSG, the Special Representative, as they were working with both political elements, to find a way to speak, to talk. They wouldn't even communicate with each other. To then be able to, militarily, and then the police, try to deescalate it enough to allow success in that. But in deescalating, it doesn't mean doing nothing, because both sides will take advantage of that.

So it's how do you stop them from doing any move forwards, or any growth of infrastructure or people? But then, to try to keep that as calm as you can. And they always try to look for different ways to find a way forward, whether they'd get agreements for both sides to talk, but it was really politically difficult.

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