European leaders on Friday condemned a Turkish Cypriot assault on UN peacekeeping forces who were trying to block the construction of a road in the buffer zone dividing Cyprus.
“The European Union condemns the assault on United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus … by personnel from the Turkish Cypriot side this morning,” said the bloc's top diplomat, Josep Borrell.
Footage of the incident showed a small group of Slovak and British UN soldiers being manhandled by a large group of Turkish Cypriots wearing police and military uniforms. UN-marked lorries, cement bollards and barbed wire were moved by bulldozers.
Some peacekeepers suffered blows to the face as they linked arms to push back the advancing Turkish Cypriots. The UN said three soldiers had to be treated for minor injuries.
The violence is a serious escalation of tension not seen on the island in years. It occurred as workers tried to build a road connecting the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north to the village of Pyla, known as Pile in Turkish, which is the only village where Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots live side by side.
The road also goes through the UN-controlled buffer zone.
Mr Borrell said that the “unauthorised construction” is “a violation of the status quo that leads to escalation”.
The Spanish diplomat called “for calm and stability in the area, as well as for the resumption of important work on a mutually agreeable way forward in the Pyla/Pile area”.
A representative for France's Foreign Affairs Ministry said that Paris was “deeply worried” by the construction work, which “undermines the restoration of confidence needed for the urgent resumption of negotiations” to solve the division of the Mediterranean island.
Minister Catherine Colonna informed her Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan of France's position during a phone call on Thursday, according to the ministry.
Mr Fidan and Ms Colonna also discussed the export of Ukrainian grain via the Black Sea, which was severely hampered by Russia's withdrawal last month from a UN-Turkish brokered deal. The ministry gave no further details.
In a joint statement, the US, UK and French embassies in Cyprus on Friday urged Turkish Cypriot authorities to immediately halt work on the road to Pyla, which starts in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus and goes through the UN buffer zone.
The statement said that the Turkish Cypriot attack on UN peacekeepers was “completely unacceptable”.
The UN said that it constituted “a serious crime under international law which will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law”.
The peacekeeping force said it was determined to block any construction work and would remain in the area.
The buffer zone is technically territory belonging to the Republic of Cyprus, which views the Turkish military presence on the island since a war in 1974 as an illegal occupation.
The statehood of the republic Turkish Cypriot leaders proclaimed in 1983 is recognised only by Ankara.
EU member Cyprus denounced what it called “organised incidents caused by the Turkish occupying forces … and the unacceptable attack against British and Slovak members of the UN peacekeeping force”.
Turkish Cypriot authorities in a statement issued on Thursday said the road project had been “prepared with the entirely humanitarian objective of providing ease of access of our citizens living in the village of Pile” to the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
“We have repeatedly brought to the attention of UNFICYP the humanitarian dimension of the Pile-Yigitler road, however consultations on this subject which continued to this day, have not produced any result,” the statement said.