UN says it will block road construction that would encroach on a buffer zone in divided Cyprus

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The U.N. mission in ethnically divided Cyprus said Thursday it will block construction by breakaway Turkish Cypriots of a road that would encroach on a U.N.-controlled buffer zone and likely raise tensions on the Mediterranean island nation.

The world body plans to “block or frustrate construction of the road by non-violent means,” said Aleem Siddique, spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping force, known as UNFICYP. The road would violate the forces’ mandate of maintaining the status quo inside the buffer zone, he added.

Work began earlier in the day on the road to connect the village of Arsos in the Turkish Cypriot north with the mixed Greek Cypriot-Turkish Cypriot village of Pyla, just south of the buffer zone and inside the Greek Cypriot south, where the island’s internationally recognized government is seated.

The road would give Turkish Cypriots direct access to Pyla by circumventing a checkpoint on the fringes of a British military base, one of two bases that the U.K. retained after Cyprus gained independence from British colonial rule in 1960.

Greek Cypriots perceive the road construction as a move with a military purpose at a sensitive spot along the buffer zone spanning 180 kilometers (120 miles).

Maintaining the status quo of the buffer zone is enshrined in the U.N. mission’s mandate since 1974, when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup mounted by Greek junta-backed supporters of union with Greece.

The U.N. says there have been numerous infringements of the buffer zone by both sides over the years. But this road construction is seen as “an attempt at a very serious violation of the status quo,” according to Cyprus government spokesman Constantinos Letymbiotis.

Letymbiotis added that the Cyprus government is working with the U.N. peacekeepers to thwart the road construction.

The Cypriot government has been pushing hard to restart moribund negotiations to resolve the island’s division and warned that construction of the road would entail “negative repercussions” on efforts to resume talks and on Turkey’s relations with the EU.

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