NICOSIA – Major General Cheryl Pearce from Australia became the first woman to head the United Nations’ peacekeeping force UNFICYP on Cyprus, joining the UN’s Special Representative Elizabeth Spehar to have female leadership over the mission.
Pearce succeeds Major General Mohammad Humayun Kabir of Bangladesh, who completed his assignment on Oct. 6, 2018 and as the Cypriot government expects the UN Security Council on Jan. 30 to routinely approve another six-month extension of UNFICYP which has been in place since 1964 to keep Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots from fighting. Spehar is a Canadian diplomat.
With UN temporary envoy Jane Holl Lute, an American diplomat, trying to get the two sides to talk again after the collapse of unity talks in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana, women are at the helm of all the critical international positions on Cyprus.
But no one has been able to bring the island together again since an unlawful 1974 invasion in which Turkey seized and still occupies the northern third, with the last round of negotiations disintegrating when Turkey insisted on keeping an army on the island and demanding the right to militarily intervene again when it wanted.
At a welcoming ceremony at UNFICYP headquarters in the buffer zone of the island’s capital here, Spehar said the goal is still a united Cyprus while praising the role of the peacekeepers dispatched at key points.
“You have a critical role to play in our efforts to achieve the benchmarks set by the Mission’s mandate. The peacekeepers under your command work every day to maintain the stability of the 180-kilometer long Buffer Zone through patrolling and liaison functions. This is vital for us in terms of the bigger picture—achieving sustainable peace in Cyprus,” she added, The Cyprus Mail reported.
Spehar said moreover that “this goal is as germane today as it was when this Mission started. It is a goal I know we all share – the dream of a united Cyprus.”
Noting Pearce’s appointment, Spehar said that, “I hope your example will help encourage increasing numbers of women in senior UN peacekeeping roles,” in other countries around the world.
The Australian flag was raised during the ceremony to welcome the new Force Commander, in the presence of Australian High Commissioner to Cyprus, Sam Beever, according to a tweet by UNFICYP.
Spehar also noted Pearce had a distinguished military career in the Australian Defence Forces, most recently as Commandant of the Australian Defence Force Academy.