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April 2013

Uclan Cyprus opens amid UN unease

 

By Matt Salusbury

The opening of the University of Central Lancaster (Uclan) in Cyprus – the first Cypriot annexe of a British university – is a source of anxiety for the United Nations and its UNFICYP peacekeeping mission on the island. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said of Uclan Cyprus in his January report to the UN General Assembly that ‘stability ... continued to be negatively affected’ by Uclan Cyprus’ presence close to UNFICYP’s ‘buffer zone’ at Pyla.

UNFICYP’s ‘Green Line’ buffer zone separates the Republic of Cyprus, the ethnically Greek Cypriot EU member state in the south, from the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, a state recognised only by Turkey and Azerbaijan, established in the north following the Turkish invasion in 1974. Travel through the Green Line at its seven crossing points – Pyla is one of them – has eased considerably since 2003, but tensions remain. Last September armed Turkish Cypriot police officers arrested some of their Greek counterparts in the buffer zone.

Pyla, the site of the Uclan Cyprus campus, is one of four villages within the buffer zone. It’s the island’s only remaining mixed community, where Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots live side by side.

Uclan Cyprus opened in October 2012, offering English-medium degrees including computing, business, tourism and law. Chris Theobald, senior PR officer at Uclan in Lancaster, told the Gazette the current student body of 145 is ‘predominantly Cypriot, but with representatives from Russia, the UK and the wider EU’.

But the UN report notes, ‘The university could see its enrolment grow to over 2,500 students. Such numbers could double the local population and threaten the delicate demographic balance in the village.’ Under the current ceasefire, neither the Republic of Cyprus nor North Cyprus ‘is permitted to maintain a full-time police presence in Pyla’. UNIFCYP public information officer Michel Bonnardeaux told the Gazette this leaves 69 UN ‘civilian’ police covering the whole island and around forty Serbian UNIFCYP peacekeeping troops covering Pyla’s Buffer Zone 4 to respond to any Uclan Cyprus ‘law and order issues’. Bonnardeaux added, ‘Discussions are still continuing with the government of the Republic of Cyprus, local authorities and Uclan itself.’

Theobald said that Uclan Cyprus ‘includes land within the buffer zone’ and is a ‘45-minute walk from the border crossing. During induction week the university briefs all students on the simple procedures to follow when crossing between the Greek and Turkish sectors.’ He added that ‘the Cypriot Ministry of Foreign Affairs manages liaison with the UN’ regarding the Uclan Cyprus campus and added, ‘It is not appropriate for Uclan to intervene in these particular discussions.’

 

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