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17 Port and Maritime Regiment on patrol in Cyprus
Cyprus is famous as a holiday destination attracting thousands of tourists every year. But it also has one of the most disputed stretches of land at its heart because of troubles going back 40 years which require a round-the-clock UN presence in its capital Nicosia. JENNY MAKIN joins troops from Marchwood’s 17 Port and Maritime Regiment as they carry out a six-month peacekeeping operation on the Mediterranean island.
THE heat is intense, the land dry and dusty and conditions can be testing.
There are two opposing sides who have a long-held belief they were wronged following troubles stretching back some 40 years and even now it can still sometimes cause tensions to rise.
Such is the frailty of the situation that the United Nations has had to carry out one of its longest running peacekeeping missions, ensuring that the oncevicious fighting that plagued the country remains a thing of the past.
Homes in the buffer zone are now derelict.
Commanding officer Lt Col Rob Askew outside the Ledra Palace Hotel where the regiment is based.
Welcome to Cyprus 2013 – a country that remains split between the Greek Cypriots in the south and the Turkish Cypriots of the north – where hundreds of Hampshire soldiers are currently deployed to keep the peace.
It’s an altogether different mission from the regiment’s past deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. There are no signs of helmets, body armour or weapons and the fiercest it tends to get is a small bout of stone throwing, missiles fired through a catapult or a spot of low level violence or flouting of the rules.
But the work being undertaken by the 200 men and women from Marchwood Military Port is vitally important.
The regiment, supported by others, including a large contingent of TA soldiers, deployed to the island on a six-month tour in April, called Operation Tosca. The task – to maintain a 36kmlong stretch of the once hotly contested buffer zone that divides the two sides.
Cpl Kwami Henry and Cpl Andrew Tubb in front of abandoned house in the buffer zone
L/ Cpl Tuipulotu Kameli and L/Cpl Viliame Bose.
At the heart of the capital and in parts of the eastern and western sectors it can narrow down to a gap of just metres, leaving soldiers from the Cyprus National Guard and their opposing Turkish Mainland Army and Turkish Cypriot Security Forces almost in touching distance in their man-made lookout posts either side of the ceasefire line.
Travel a few kilometres and the so-called Green Line can just as quickly open out across the vast arid landscape for miles – giving them a considerably large area of land to patrol to ensure order is maintained and no small or significant changes to the surroundings have been made by either side. Lt Col Rob Askew, commanding officer of 17 PMR, said: “The perception that nothing happens here in Cyprus is because people are here ensuring nothing happens.
It’s a really important job.
L Cpl Tuipulotu Kameli and Vilaime Bose.
“While Cyprus might appear to be a particularly safe place to the public there are still some serious divisions over the land which have been held for 40 years.
There is still a requirement for a presence just to make sure those old wounds do not open up again.
“It’s a big privilege to be working in this UN role. Our nation believes it is in our own interest and so that’s what we are contributing to.”
TOMORROW: Inside the lost city of Nicosia, where time has stood still for 40 years.
A car abandoned in the east side of the buffer zone when it was shot at in 1974.
Mohamed Eydatoula at the Ledra Palace pool.
What the troops say:
Cpl Andrew Tubb, 49, has just returned to Cyprus after his leave but is glad to be back and on patrol. He said: “You occasionally get someone from just outside the buffer zone who is trying to push the boundaries, but most of the time it’s very quiet. They have to be here and we have to be here, but generally I think people just want to get on. Part of our job is about testing what their attitudes are towards us but most of the time they acknowledge or wave back at us. It’s only occasionally that you feel you are being ignored. It was nice to be home on leave but it was also quite nice to get back here. Coming out here in this heat was probably the biggest shock but when you are stood down or off duty it’s great. You make of it what you make of it out here.”
Cpl Kwami Henry, 29, says time has flown by since deploying on the UN operation. As a section commander he’s in charge of ten guys and peacekeeping on the buffer zone is the best part of his job. He said: “I enjoy it and it doesn’t get boring. The guard shift gets a bit tough for the guys who get four hours rest and then they’re back on the gate again, it get can get quite tiring especially in the heat. I’ve found that the people out here on both sides are quite friendly when they interact with us, we say hi to each other and it’s rare that anyone is rude. Time out here has gone really quickly. I can remember the day we flew out here really clearly so it’s hard to think we’re almost ready to go home again, but I’m looking forward to getting back and being on leave.”
Mohamed “Eddy” Eydatoula, 36, gave up life in his native Mauritius where he trained with the paramilitary police to join the British Army and move to Marchwood. During his time deployed to Cyprus with 17 PMR he’s landed a dream job of pool lifeguard at the barracks in between other duties. He said: “I wanted to see more of the world and so I joined the British Army four years ago and went straight to 17 PMR. Last year I was in the Falklands and now I’m here in Cyprus. Doing this job as a lifeguard at the pool is a dream. You do it for six days at a time!”
Pte Matt Bromley, 28, who lives in Applemore with wife Louise, has enjoyed being been back out patrolling the buffer zone after time out following a back injury. With three years under his belt as a regular soldier and nearly six years’ past experience in the TA, he has particularly enjoyed seeing both sets of soldiers working closely out in Cyprus. “Before we came out here there as always that divide between the TA and us but out here all that changed within a week and we have some really good TA soldiers working with us. The last two months I have not left the gate of the Ledra Palace and not being out on patrol has been a nightmare but it’s good to be back out again. They say that no two days are the same in the British Army but it has definitely been on the buffer zone and our job is all about looking for what, if anything, has changed and dealing with violations. The worst thing has been the heat. It’s not so bad when you can get away to the coast but here in Nicosia there’s no wind and no shelter.”
Pte Metong Clinton Ogolodom, 26, says he has found the UN operation liberating as soldiers are given more opportunity to make decisions on how to deal with a situation themselves. A trained crane operator back home, it was a compete change of job and a new experience. “Being able to deal with the day to day violations on our own as individuals, being able to make the decisions on your own has been good. Then you get to see the impact of your work and how far it goes up the chain. I’ve always wanted to work for the UN and when the chance to do this came up I jumped at it. It’s been really good so far.” Among the biggest challenges was dealing with a large fire in the eastern sector of the buffer zone which remained a problem for three to four days. “When it happened we helped out and then it was a case of staying around to make sure it was contained and controlled and didn’t escalate.”
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