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IUNVA - UNFICYP 50 Years of peace keeping

 

UNFICYP - Fifty Years of Peacekeeping

The island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean is strategically located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa. It is 9251 square kilometres in size- roughly the combined area of counties Cork and Waterford. At the outbreak of World War 1, Britain annexed the island and it was declared a Crown Colony in 1925. In 1955, the (Greek Cypriot) National Organization of Cypriot Combatants (EOKA) commenced a guerrilla war against British rule. In 1958, the Turkish Resistance Organisation (TMT) was established to counter EOKA. In February 1959 the governments of the United Kingdom, Greece and Turkey reached agreement on the future of the Cyprus at conferences in Zurich and London. The Republic of Cyprus became an independent state on 16 August 1960 and Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, and the United Kingdom entered into a treaty to guarantee the provisions of the constitution and the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Cyprus. A series of constitutional crises erupted soon after independence and the two underground armies, EOKA and TMT, built up their forces as the deadlock persisted. On 21 December 1963, fighting broke out in Nicosia and it quickly spread across the island and involved mainland Greek and Turkish forces.

After attempts to restore peace had failed; the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 186 on 4 March 1964 to establish the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom provided military contingents; Australia, Austria, Denmark, New Zealand and Sweden supplied civilian police. By 8 June 1964 the strength of the force was 6,411. The mandate required UNFICYP to operate "in the interest of preserving international peace and security, to use its best efforts to prevent a recurrence of fighting and, as necessary, to contribute to the maintenance and restoration of law and order and a return to normal conditions."

The number of incidents decreased as UNFICYP deployed and an uneasy peace held but there were sporadic outbreaks of fighting. The most severe inter-communal fighting since 1964 erupted on 12 November 1967. Following intensive diplomatic efforts the fighting was brought to an end. The inter-communal security situation in Cyprus improved during 1968 (the average monthly armed incidents had dropped from 350 in 1964 to 10 in 1968) and by the end of the year UNFICYP had been reduced to 3,708 personnel.

On 15 July 1974, units of the Greek Cypriot National Guard under the direction of mainland Greek army officers and aided by EOKA fighters, staged a coup d’état against the government. Hundreds of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriots were killed in the fighting and this provided Turkey with a pretext to act in defence of the Turkish Cypriot population. On 20 July 1974, Turkish forces launched an airborne assault in northern Nicosia while simultaneously an amphibious assault was made on the coast near Kyrenia. A ceasefire came into effect on 16 August after the Turkish intervention had gained control of 36% of the island. This marked a turning point for Cyprus as it resulted in the deaths of thousands, the displacement of about two hundred thousand people and the de facto partitioning of the island. UNFICYP changed from being deployed throughout the island to manning the 180 kilometres long Buffer Zone (the Green Line) that marks the ceasefirelines.

Over the following years UNFICYP was reduced as battalions withdrew – the Finns in 1977, the Swedes 1988, the Danes 1992, the Canadians in 1993. In 1993, the Security Council decided that UNFICYP should be restructured with three infantry units of approximately 350 personnel each, it was estimated that this was the minimum number required to maintain effective control of the buffer zone.

Today UNFICY has 857 military personnel drawn from thirteen countries. The police component has 65 personnel and this includes twelve members of An Gárda Síochana. UNFICYP is the third longest running UN mission after the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO May 1948) and United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP Jan 1949). In marking the upcoming fiftieth anniversary year of the mission in March 2014, Ban Ki-moon expressed his gratitude to the thirty two countries that have contributed troops or police to UNFICYP since 1964 and he paid tribute to the 184 peacekeepers who lost their lives while serving for peace in Cyprus.

Defence Forces Participation in UNFICYP 1964 - 2005

Dáil Éireann formally approved the despatch of a contingent for service with UNFICYP on 7 April 1964. The first Irish unit deployed to Cyprus, 40 Inf Bn with a strength of 606 personnel commanded by Lt Col Pearse Barry, arrived at Nicosia airport between 19 and 21 April and were based in Famagusta. The experiences and lessons learnt during service with UNOGIL, UNTSO and ONUC meant that the unit was well armed, equipped and supported by state of the art armoured fighting vehicles.

The UN then requested an additional unit as the British contingent was to be reduced from its initial strength of 2,719 to approximately 1,000. Between 21 July and 5 August, 3 Inf Gp commanded by Lt Col Thomas McDonald joined the force and deployed to the Larnaca District. This brought the Irish strength up to 1,032 personnel, including staff at Force HQ. Ireland’s contribution is remarkable as 2 Inf Gp with 337 personnel was still serving in the Congo with Opération des Nations Unies au Congo (ONUC) when UNFICYP started and the overall strength of the DF in 1964 was 8,322.

The first re-deployment on Irish personnel was in December 1964, 41 Inf Bn and the Swedish Bn swapped locations. 41 Inf Bn moved to the Morphou District with Bn HQ and HQ Coy located at Skouriotissa and Coys located at Kato Pyrgos, Lefka; and Limnitis. 3 Inf Gp moved to the Paphos District with HQ at Ktima and a Coy at Polis. In early 1970 the force underwent a major reorganisation and the 13 Inf Gp moved from Xeros to Zyyi, with positions at Lefka, Larnaca, Limnitis and later at Kopinou. As the demands for personnel for aid to the civil power operations increased at home, the contingent was reduced. On 8 October 1971, while 21 Inf Gp was in training in Ireland, the Armd Car Gp was stood down. Midway through its tour, 250 men were recalled from 21 Inf Gp for duty in Ireland leaving just 129 personnel on island.

Following the ceasefire after the Yom Kippur War, UNEF II was established and 25 Inf Gp was transferred to the Sinai in November 1973 at the request of the UN Secretary General and with the approval of the Dáil. This ended the Defence Forces contribution of units to UNFICYP but Ireland continued to participate in the mission by supplying staff at UNFICYP HQ. In mid 1974 the contingent numbered three, it rose to eight during the 1980s and by March 1994 it reached thirty when Ireland took over Camp Command and the contingent remained at that figure until 1999 when it reduced back to six. Following a review of overseas commitments in July 2003, it was decided to end participation in UNFICYP. On 24 May 2005, Lt Col Paul Quirke, the last member of the Defence Forces to serve with UNFICYP, lowered the tricolour at a sunset ceremony to mark the end of forty one years of peacekeeping service in Cyprus.

The Defence Forces made a substantial contribution to UNFICY: twenty two units as well as staff at Force HQ, military police, observers and Camp Command; this amounts to 9,655 cumulative tours of duty. Maj Gen James J Quinn served as UNFICYP Force Commander from December 1976 to March 1981. Maj Gen Michael F Minehane was Force Commander from April 1992 until August1994. Nine members of the Defence Forces died in Cyprus, none through hostile action. As we mark the fiftieth anniversary of peacekeeping in Cyprus we acknowledge the sacrifices of our nine comrades and also remember the pain of their families and loved ones. Word count 1332

 

DF Fatalities while serving with UNFICYP

 

Rank

Name

Unit

Parent Unit

Died

Coy Sgt

Wallace McCauley

41 Inf Bn

Dep MPC

22 Feb 1965

Sgt

John Hamill

4 Inf Gp

Dep Cav

07 Apr 1965

Cpl

William Hetherington

4 Inf Gp

CTD (E)

19 Jul 1965

Coy Sgt

James Ryan

6 Inf Gp

5 Inf Bn

04 Oct 1966

Capt

Christopher McNamara

9 Inf Gp

2 Grn S& T Coy

16 Jan 1968

Cpl

James Fagan

10 Inf Gp

2 Mot Sqn

10 Jun 1968

Lt

Ronald Byrne

11 Inf Gp

4 Inf Bn

28 Oct 1968

Tpr

Michael Kennedy

12 Inf Gp

1 Armd Car Sqn

01 Jul 1969

Pte

Brendan Cummins

20 Inf Gp

2 Inf Bn

11 Jun 1971

 

DF UNFICYP UNITS

UNIT

DATES

STRENGTH

40 Inf Bn

Apr – Oct 64

606

3 Inf Gp

Jul – Dec 64

399

41 Inf Bn

Oct 64 – Mar 65

611

4 Inf Gp

Jan – Jun 65

426

42 Inf Bn

Apr – Sep 65

618

5 Inf Gp

Oct 65 – Mar 66

503

6 Inf Gp

Apr – Sep 66

503

7 Inf Gp

Oct 66 – Mar 67

504

8 Inf Gp

Mar – Sep 67

507

9 Inf Gp

Oct 67 – Mar 68

527

10 Inf Gp

Mar – Sep 68

537

11 Inf Gp

Aug 68 – Mar 69

407

12 Inf Gp

Mar – Sep 69

405

13 Inf Gp

Sep 69 – Apr 70

405

18 Inf Gp

Mar – Oct 70

409

19 Inf Gp

Sep 70 – Apr 71

414

20 Inf Gp

Apr – Oct 71

414

21 Inf Gp

Oct 71 – Apr 72

376

Reduced to 129 in January 1972

 

Foreword: The United Nations Force in Cyprus was established fifty years ago and it is the longest-running peacekeeping troop mission. This article outlines the evolution of peacekeeping in Cyprus and traces the Defence Forces involvement from the start of the mission.

Col George Kerton (Retd) served in Cyprus as Military Assistant to the Force Commander in 1997 – 98.

 

 

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