On the green line, diplomacy beats combat for Portsmouth soldiers

Engine woes end mission

0
Have your say

There is a section of scenic countryside in Cyprus only ever seen by British soldiers.

Rumbling along a dusty path in an armoured vehicle, their eyes take in the lush landscapes that stretch across the horizon.

Soldiers from Princess of Wales Royal Regiment on overseas deployment with the UN in Cyprus.  The soldiers who are reservists from the South East of the UK are currently working with soldiers of the United Nations keeping peace in Cyprus.  The soldiers are deployed with Slovakian and Argentine infantrymen guarding and maintaining the peace within the Green Zone ensuring that no hostilities between the Turkish in the north and Cypriot forces in the south flare up again. PPP-140803-231509001

Soldiers from Princess of Wales Royal Regiment on overseas deployment with the UN in Cyprus. The soldiers who are reservists from the South East of the UK are currently working with soldiers of the United Nations keeping peace in Cyprus. The soldiers are deployed with Slovakian and Argentine infantrymen guarding and maintaining the peace within the Green Zone ensuring that no hostilities between the Turkish in the north and Cypriot forces in the south flare up again. PPP-140803-231509001

But they aren’t paying attention to the beautiful blue skies and green fields.

Instead, they notice the Turkish and Greek armed forces sentry posts, holes in a barbed wire perimeter fence, and evidence of illegal hunting.

Soldiers from the Portsmouth-based D Company of the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment Third Battalion, affectionately known as the Tigers, are nearing the end of their time at the headquarters of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus.

They know these country routes well by now, having patrolled them countless times before during the day and night.

Soldiers from Princess of Wales Royal Regiment on overseas deployment with the UN in Cyprus.  The soldiers who are reservists from the South East of the UK are currently working with soldiers of the United Nations keeping peace in Cyprus.  The soldiers are deployed with Slovakian and Argentine infantrymen guarding and maintaining the peace within the Green Zone ensuring that no hostilities between the Turkish in the north and Cypriot forces in the south flare up again. PPP-140803-230906001

Soldiers from Princess of Wales Royal Regiment on overseas deployment with the UN in Cyprus. The soldiers who are reservists from the South East of the UK are currently working with soldiers of the United Nations keeping peace in Cyprus. The soldiers are deployed with Slovakian and Argentine infantrymen guarding and maintaining the peace within the Green Zone ensuring that no hostilities between the Turkish in the north and Cypriot forces in the south flare up again. PPP-140803-230906001

The wide area they are guarding is the buffer zone, or green line, which has divided Cyprus since the 1974 Turkish response to a coup on the island, backed by the Greeks.

In the decades since, both forces have been jealously looking over each other’s side. The sudden appearance of an extra sentry on an outpost, or the addition of a sandbag, is something noted, reported, and protested against. In the middle are the British soldiers, acting as referees.

Sergeant Oliver Soord-Gurney, 28, a reservist and graduate of the University of Portsmouth, says: ‘We patrol to make sure it’s all secure and there is nothing that shouldn’t be here.

‘It gives an assurance to the opposing forces that we are here doing the job.

‘It can be a petty stuff sometimes, like stopping asparagus pickers who cross into places they shouldn’t be, but little things like that can have a big effect here if left unchallenged.’

The soldiers all agree it is nothing like their tours of Iraq or Afghanistan – for a start, no-one is being shot at, but the mental demands remain the same, if not higher.

And that state of ceasefire is only possible because of the peacekeeping work done by the troops both past and present.

Colonel Angus Loudon, the chief of staff at the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, says the biggest difference in Cyprus is that it is not a combat situation.

‘On this mission you probably wouldn’t lose your leg, but you’ll probably lose your reputation if you get it wrong.

‘This is a very different operation and more complex politically. It’s a place where individual soldiers have tremendous responsibility for ensuring they spot even the smallest aberration in the agreed rules we have with both sides.

‘Those small issues have to be identified, reported, and followed up on.

‘They have to be trained to be very observant and tactful, patient, and diplomatic. It’s more mentally demanding than physically and it demands moral courage.’

Understandably, it can be difficult to maintain motivation to referee the never-ending spats between the two sides when there is little movement politically to bring an end to the dispute. But in a surprising twist earlier this year, the soldiers’ patience paid off.

Leaders from both sides finally agreed a meeting to revive stalled peace talks, with the aim of uniting the island again.

It won’t mean an overnight solution, but it is the first positive sign in years since the talks last broke down.

The soldiers who work as part of the Mobile Force Reserve were responsible for policing those talks, ensuring the leaders met in safety and under fair conditions.

Until such a time as a peace agreement can be made, soldiers will always be needed to keep the peace and maintain a status quo.

On the surface, it seems as though they will come away from their deployment leaving things exactly as they found them. But months of building relationships with the two sides and maintaining order can only be making steps towards an eventual solution.