Aussies on the green line
Australian police officers currently serve in Cyprus as part of the UN Peace Keeping Forces as a call of duty which has been carried out since 1964.
From London pubs to every far-flung corner of the globe, the easy-going Australian disposition has an unfaltering knack of winning hearts, minds and friends in even the most hostile situations. Needless to say it's also a vital asset to hundreds of federal and state police officers deployed in 36 overseas posts, including some of the world's most dangerous and critical peacekeeping missions.
Compared to Afghanistan and Sudan, Cyprus is considered one of the safest postings of the Australian International Deployment Group (IDG), however, the service it provides is no less vital to the UN's highly sensitive peacekeeping and settlement agenda.
Since arriving as part of the UN policing presence after the formation of UNFICYP in 1964, over 1,400 Australian police officers have served on the island, providing an essential link between Greek and Turkish Cypriot law enforcement agencies, while earning the respect and friendship of the small communities they serve within the UN controlled buffer zone.
From Kato Pyrgos on the northwest coast to Deryneia in the east, the 180km long zone separates the island's occupied north with the southern republic, along a line designated in accordance with the positions of Turkish and Greek Cypriot forces on the date of the 1974 ceasefire. Heavily guarded on both sides, some 30,000 or so people cross the zone's six designated crossing points between the north and south each week.
Covering approximately three per cent of the island, the largely agricultural area provides a home and/or work for over 10,000 civilians, scattered across the settlements of Deneia, Mammari, Athienou, Troulli, Lymbia and Pyla, the only village where Greek and Turkish Cypriots live side-by-side. 'Civilian use areas' are accessible to permit holders, such as farmers, and to buffer zone residents; the rest strictly off limits to anyone without UNFICYP authorisation.
An award ceremony for UN personnel held in the United Nations Protected Area, close to the site of Nicosia's old airport, offered an opportunity to meet some of the 15 officers currently serving with Australia's 96th Cyprus Contingent.
Second only in size to the Irish police presence, Australia is the longest continuous serving country of the nine represented in the seventy-strong UN police force (UNPOL) supporting the organisation's military presence and humanitarian Civil Affairs Branch.
Fresh from accepting his medal from Special Representative of the Secretary General/UNFICYP Chief of Mission, Mr Taye-Brook Zerihoun, Deputy Sector Commander, Sergeant Steve Bonnici summarises the role of UNPOL in Cyprus.
"Under the UN mandate we have what we call a three-pillar approach; the military look after the Turkish forces and National Guard, we look after the buffer zone as far as law and order is concerned, while Civil Affairs deals with what we call a 'return to normal conditions'," he explains, well-versed in UNFICYP history and policy from the briefings he regularly provides for new arrivals of UN military personnel.
In comparison to his previous deployment to the Sudan, the South Australian admits he's become accustomed to the island's climate and lifestyle. "Cyprus is lovely to be honest, it's very much like being at home," he says.
"Mission life is somewhat different between locations and some can be quite isolating, and because they don't have the infrastructure you're living in a camp like a military situation. That's what I enjoy most about this - we're in a position to go to work and live as we would at home.
There's no doubt that the threat levels were significantly higher in the Sudan but this is true peacekeeping, quite a different kind of work under the resolution."
UNPOL officers are neither armed nor have the power to arrest or detain suspects.
Their job is to monitor and report issues, maintain public order and facilitate civilian police investigations inside the buffer zone. "We really have a backseat role in terms of policing," Steve admits, although he describes an array of familiar problems. "At the end of the day people still get assaulted, there's domestic violence, there are murders and all those sorts of crimes, but there are cultural differences," he says.
For experienced police officers like Sergeant Shane Scott, on his first international tour straight from his old Northern Territory beat, the lack of enforcement power can be frustrating. "It was very violent up there so the contrast is hard to explain, the people are so different," he says.
"It's not the same as I'm used to as a frontline police officer - here you don't really respond in terms of normal offences, we purely observe and report and the Cyprus police deal with everything else, so it's a real culture change."
Based at Mammari station west of Nicosia, Shane's sector is predominantly agricultural, used by farmers and the occasional shepherd with permits to work the land.
In comparison, Steve's Ledra Palace Hotel beat is often called-upon to monitor demonstrations in an area which includes the thin 3.3 metre wide strip of crumbling, bullet-pocked buildings separating the two sides at the buffer zone's narrowest point in central Nicosia.
Elsewhere, restricted access has left large areas of land virtually untouched since the invasion, leading to the formation of 'involuntary parks' where rare plants and animals, including the threatened Cyprus' Moufflon, now thrive.
Subsequently, the tempting proliferation of wild game attracts 'incursions' by armed hunters and these, along with unauthorised construction, permit violations and illegal immigrants, are among common issues reported by 24-hour military and UNPOL patrols.
- Register Now
- Fans make the Wanderers a good investment
- Do it like the Greeks says German consul
- Tailor made coffee
- Turkey condemns NSW's genocide recognition
- Sisterly love to the end
- Mykonos: Something to 'Crowe' about
- Greek shipowners choose Chinese shipyards
- Fitch upgrades Greece's credit rating
- Political history in the Arts
- Simon, Carle and Nichols return to A-League
- 8 May 2013 | 12 Votes
- 15 May 2013 | 9 Votes
- 3 May 2013 | 9 Votes
- 8 May 2013 | 8 Votes
- 13 May 2013 | 7 Votes
- 24 Apr 2013 | 6 Votes
More from this Section
- Angelopoulos' Greek drama
- Political history in the Arts
- Marxist reporter won praise for his work
- Eurovision 2013: The kitsch and the high notes
- Myth versus reality: Athens during the peak of the crisis
- The Constantinople spirit
- The outfit says it all
- Unravelling Greece's crisis
- Crossing into the unknown
- Tall tales
Harry Kewell's hope to be picked for the Socceroos squad is in doubt
Technical terminology is okay if it provides shorthand for complex ideas, explains Mark Bouris
Senator Xenophon says current ballot rules are "stacked against independents" and has moved to create the Nick Xenophon Group
Final evacuation site of the Anzacs marked for posterity
The Victorian Premier League returns this weekend with Round Five, and South Melbourne welcome Richmond Eagles, and their new coach, in their first home game this season
The fate of a contentious anti-racism bill will have to be determined by the leaders in the fragile coalition
A Greek Australian part of the trucking company at the centre of the alleged fraud, Viking Group, was involved in the 'severe bashing'.
The Australian Embassy in Athens marked Anzac Day by laying wreaths at the Australian Memorial Moudros Harbour
The Victorian government's grants program will fund improvements to community-owned facilities up to $100,000
Star players like Del Piero, Ono and Rojas all made the fan pick, but many could be poached to play for the Socceroos in the East Asian Cup finals
Lecture on Cultural Heritage Preservation in a Cyber World, by Dora Constantinidis, will be held as part of the exhibition Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures
Dr Peter Kambouris says a new generation of robots can transform Australia's manufacturing sector and create safer, more efficient
Karithopita was the first cake I made from Mum's new cookbook by Sofia Skoura. It was my mum's new Tselemende and we were all so excited, says chef Kathy Tsaples
All Windows Open was voted for its accurate portrayal of child migrants
Greece violated the human rights of two immigrants, one of them a minor and the other a woman
The Spanish coach also brings with him assistant Pau Marti to join Michael Valkanis
The conclusion of the A1 basketball league’s regular season saw the relegation of Peristeri to the A2 after a dramatic battle with Ilisiakos
34,100 Greeks moved to Germany in 2012 with a 43 per cent jump