Captain Peter Singlehurst is from the Media Operations Group(V) and is currently serving as the Media and an Ops Info Officer, with 17 Port and Maritime Group in Cyprus.
Hello from Cyprus!
The day-to-day work of Sector 2 is patrolling our part of the Buffer Zone here in Cyprus, as I have mentioned before this is carried out in four ways, namely in vehicles, on bikes, on foot and in the air. This blog will describe a recent vehicle patrol I accompanied in the west of our area.
Normally patrols consist of two soldiers, either two Privates or a Lance Corporal and a Private. For this patrol they were joined by me and some army media personnel from the Media Operations Group, who were in Cyprus to gather material to help tell our story. For this blog however I will concentrate of the patrol itself, so that you can get a flavour of what the patrols are actually like.
We set off from our base at the old Ledra Palace Hotel, in the centre of Nicosia; our objective was to patrol the western end of our operational area. To get there however first involves a drive through the city. We leave by our main gate and join the busy traffic at the well-known “Billy the Bomber” roundabout. So called because in the centre is a statue of an EOKA member throwing a grenade. A constant reminder of previous troubled times and the British Army’s long standing presence here.
Watching us watching them
We drive through the city towards the old airport, the Cypriots do no give us a second thought we are part of their everyday lives and the sight of the white Toyota Hilux pick-ups we use with the large black UN letters on the side is an everyday occurrence.
After a few minutes we arrive at the main entrance of the United Nations Protected Area, as the old international airport is now known. Here we pass through a UN manned check point and receive a salute from the Argentinian soldier manning the gate, immediately we turn off the main road and on to the patrol track. We have entered the Buffer Zone and the change is immediate. We have gone from a modern busy European city to a deserted landscape. Around us are a few scattered damaged buildings and old defensive positions from the 1974 fighting, as we drive on we see our first Greek Cypriot National Guard Observation posts and Turkish Forces Observation posts. Some are manned but many are not due to the progress that the UN has made in de-escalating tensions between the two opposing sides.
We wave at the soldiers and sometimes get a friendly wave back, sometimes though they are indifferent and continue watching us watching them.
Our first stop is AD crossing, this is one of three places in Sector Two where the two communities can cross the Buffer Zone that divides them. It also marks the boundary between our West Troop and our Centre troop. Just before we get there however the patrol track takes us past one of the most unexpected parts of the Buffer Zone, when we drive past what are now the back gardens of a row of houses where people still live. The edge of the Buffer Zone is the edge of their property and the patrol track used to be a normal residential road. On the other side of the track are derelict houses. This means the Cypriots living in the houses can just walk out of their property and straight into the buffer zone. Today though nobody is about and it is all quite.
Our next stop is an old UN patrol house. In the past up to a company of men were based here and the area was once a problem area. On top of the patrol house is a UN observation point and soon we are watching the Turkish and Greek Forces watching each other and us.
Nearby is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery of Wayne’s Keep that is located in the Buffer Zone. The cemetery is one of the unexpected jobs that we in Sector Two have, for we conduct visits to it on behalf of the CWGC. Nearby is also an old school, high on a hill that commands the whole area and which has a Turkish Observation point on it, we look to see that all the opposing forces have the right number of troops in their observation posts and they do, so it is time to move on.
We set off again driving west and the Buffer Zone opens up here the land is dry and parched. The ground is stony with only the hardiest of plants growing, it is deserted and the Turkish and Greek Observation posts are now in the distance. We continue our drive west to visit a pig farm that has been given permission to operate in the Buffer Zone. We need to monitor the activities of the farmer to see that he is sticking to what has been agreed. This includes inspecting his pig slurry lagoons. The smell is unbelievable and it is not a pleasant task.
The patrol is also on the lookout for fly tipping, this has been an issue for many years as Cyprus like most countries charge for commercial rubbish disposal and therefore dumping rubbish in the UN controlled Buffer Zone is a cheap, if illegal solution. Near the pig farm some fly tipping is spotted and so we stop and take pictures. In due course the Municipality will be informed and they will remove the rubbish.
Our final stop of the patrol is at another UN observation post that is in the far west of our patrol area; here the OP is on the edge of a long ridge that means we look out far to the west and north of the Turkish Cypriot area. The land is dry grassland with a strong hot wind blowing. Nothing is moving and in this part of the Buffer Zone we are quite alone. It is only in the distance that the nearest town with its large mosque with twin minarets and a silver dome glistens in the sun.
Our patrol has reached the edge of the area of operations and now it is time to head back to Nicosia, another patrol complete.