Portsmouth soldiers keep the peace

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On an island better known for its sun, sea, and sand, soldiers are working hard to keep the peace between two opposing forces locked in a bitter dispute.

Around 46 reservists from the Hilsea-based D Company of the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment Third Battalion are nearing the end of a six-month tour in Cyprus.

Private Michael Spake, left, talks with a colleague while on patrol in the United Nations buffer zone

Private Michael Spake, left, talks with a colleague while on patrol in the United Nations buffer zone

Their job is to patrol the United Nations buffer zone, that has divided the island since Turkey invaded in 1974 and occupied the north.

D Company, supported by around a dozen regular soldiers, keeps a close eye on the protected area which houses the UN’s headquarters.

They also provide a quick reaction force, called the Mobile Force Reserve (MFR), ready to respond to any public order incidents at a moment’s notice.

Major Jim Phipps, the officer commanding the MFR, said: ‘It has been very busy, but very enjoyable and the guys have gained an awful lot from it.

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-140803-231103001

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-140803-231103001

‘We do everything from providing security for our own camp, to providing support to operations across the buffer zone.

‘We’ve provided support to the de-mining that has taken place, to the leaders meeting in which the two leaders of the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots got together.

‘We have put an lot of effort into conducting patrolling and it has paid off.’

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the UN peacekeeping mission in Cyprus, and 40 years since ceasefire lines led to the creation of the buffer zone.

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-140803-231129001

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-140803-231129001

People may associate Cyprus with flip flops rather than camouflage, but between training and patrols the soldiers on deployment barely have time to enjoy the sunshine.

Fortunately the job is less about fighting skills and more about diplomacy and negotiation, but those on the ground must still remain vigilant.

The army’s work in Cyprus over the last six months has earned high praise from Colonel Angus Loudon, the chief of staff at the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus.

He told The News: ‘They have done extremely well.

‘Their dedication was exemplary and they have proved themselves in the operation and have integrated extremely well with multi-national colleagues of all nations – Slovakian, Argentinian, and Hungarian.

‘I see a cohesive unit, regardless of rank, regardless of nation, regardless of background and expertise and it has worked extremely well.

‘They should be very proud of themselves.’

OPERATION IS SECOND BIGGEST AFTER AFGHANISTAN

CYPRUS has been divided since 1974, although its troubles began long before that.

The Republic of Cyprus became an independent state in 1960, and a member of the United Nations shortly after.

Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, and the United Kingdom entered into a treaty, guaranteeing the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the nation and establishing a constitution.

However, it did not take long for problems to arise.

Tension between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities continued to grow, until the eventual outbreak of violence in 1963.

A few months later, the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus was established to try and prevent a reoccurrence of the fighting.

Ten years later, a coup d’état took place by Greek Cypriot and Greek elements who wanted Cyprus to unify with Greece.

This was followed by military intervention by Turkish forces, who responded by occupying northern part of the island.

After a ceasefire was agreed, a buffer zone was established between the two forces, and the job of the peacekeeping force became to police it.

For almost four decades now, the Turks and Greeks have jealously scrutinised each other’s every move, while British troops are sandwiched between them imposing the status quo to enable politicians to advance peace talks.

For although the fighting stopped decades ago, no peace treaty has ever been signed.

The British operation in Cyprus, code named Operation Tosca, is the UK’s biggest overseas operation after Afghanistan.

READ MORE: On patrol with the peacekeepers from Portsmouth