Cheryl Pearce - A tense stand off

Running time
4 min 20 sec
Date made
Department of Veterans' Affairs


A high-tension situation is the Commonwealth war graves. There's a Commonwealth war graves in Cyprus, actually is inside the buffer zone. The Turkish forces and the leadership in the North believe it is part of the North. And they say that to deescalate, they'll give the UN the permission to use it. The UN's position, it's in the buffer zone, and it belongs for us to monitor, observe, and to keep an eye on it until the settlement occurs, and then it'll be decided.

So it's actually saying it doesn't belong to us, but it doesn't belong to either side, and it's our responsibility to look after until that settlement. So what had happened over time, when the talks are going well, there's a better chance of finding a way forward. When the peace talks are in hiatus or it's very-high tensions, we run into issues of where suddenly go, "Nope, you can't go into the cemetery." And part of our ONEs (?) is we need to have a presence, either observation or by patrolling.

To do a patrol within the Commonwealth war cemetery was really significant because we were unarmed. And they would claim it's theirs, and then they would move forward. And the move forward was then a violation, which would then create a response from the South, because they had eyes on. So it's how do you stop them doing a move forward? They wouldn't let the gardeners in. Because the gardeners used be independent of both the North and the South. And so we are trying to...

Even the Brits were trying to facilitate through the Commonwealth war graves, was to hire a gardener. So something as simple as this became a real tension and a real issue. And in the end, we went in with five peacekeepers, with whipper-snippers, and shovels, and we did the gardening. Now, this was a three or four day planned activity. This wasn't just, hey, the night before, let's go in and do this.

This was a significant amount of planning because they had forced protection out of right from any escalation. The Turkish forces over-responded, and they turned up with a platoon in full combat gear and surrounded the Commonwealth war cemetery in full combat gear, and weapons at the ready on five peacekeepers with whipper-snipers. So trying to deescalate that, to get onto then the phone to the Turkish forces commander, we had video going of it.

That's the only way we could actually deescalate it, from it. And we had the force protection team ready to move. It was just the wait out. Wait out of who was going to actually move first to... And we held, and we held, and we held. And they then pulled back and were able to capture that. But the simpleness of that, but the complexity of that, and what that there and meant politically, because that then was escalated right up, and was used as nearly a propaganda to say about disparaging remark.

We're not trying to get to a peace process. We're not aiming to go forward. Look what they're doing. They're moving forward in, they're threatening the UN, et cetera, et cetera. So each side provides political mileage out of these incidents. We could not have allowed the Turkish forces to own that piece. So the complexity of that is really, it's minor in some ways, if you take Afghanistan, the planning I was doing in Afghanistan, but the political strategic implications of something that simple in Cyprus was significant.

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