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Nicosia, Cyprus -- Turkish Cypriot forces on Friday assaulted UN peacekeepers who attempted to block controversial road construction in the buffer zone dividing Cyprus, the UN mission on the island said.
The UN-patrolled area slices between the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus in the south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot statelet in the north.
The buffer zone is technically territory belonging to the Republic of Cyprus, which views Turkish military presence on the island since a war in 1974 as illegal occupation.
The United Nations mission had on Thursday warned the Turkish Cypriot authorities against "unauthorised construction activities inside the UN buffer zone".
It said its peacekeepers were assaulted on Friday as they tried to block the construction of the road that encroaches on the buffer zone from the village of Pyla, known as Pile in Turkish.
"The United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus condemns the assaults against UN peacekeepers and damage to UN vehicles by personnel from the Turkish Cypriot side this morning," UNFICYP said in a statement.
It said the incident occurred inside the buffer zone near Pyla, the only village where Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots live side by side.
"Threats to the safety of UN peacekeepers and damage to UN property are unacceptable," the UN mission said.
European Union member Cyprus denounced what it called "organised incidents caused by the Turkish occupying forces... and the unacceptable attack against British and Slovak members of the UN peacekeeping force".
The EU also condemned the incident, as well as Britain, France and the United States who in a joint statement expressed "serious concern at the launch of unauthorised construction" of the road.
An official said Turkish Cypriot police and military in plain clothes had punched a peacekeeper and assaulted a dozen others by "pushing them back violently".
- 'Faits accomplis' -
A tractor was used to drag a UN vehicle out of the way and major damage had been caused to three vehicles, said the official who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.
In its statement, the UN mission urged the Turkish Cypriot side to "respect the mission's mandated authority inside the UN buffer zone, refrain from any actions that could escalate tensions further, and withdraw all personnel and machinery from the UN buffer zone immediately".
UNFICYP said it was determined to block any construction work and would remain in the area.
"The mission is monitoring the situation closely and remains committed to ensuring calm and stability are maintained in the area," it said.
Cyprus government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis accused the Turkish side of trying to create new "faits accomplis" at Pyla by constructing a road connecting the "occupied village of Arsos with a forward illegal military outpost".
The spokesman described the Turkish road project as "an attempt at a very serious violation of the status quo".
- 'Humanitarian objective' -
The Turkish Cypriot authorities in a statement issued on Thursday said the road project had been "prepared with the entirely humanitarian objective of providing ease of access of our citizens living in the village of Pile" to the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
"We have repeatedly brought to the attention of UNFICYP the humanitarian dimension of the Pile–Yigitler road, however consultations on this subject which continued to this day, have not produced any result," the statement said.
The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974 when Turkish forces occupied its northern third in response to a military coup sponsored by the junta then in power in Greece.
The statehood of the republic Turkish Cypriot leaders proclaimed in 1983 is recognised only by Ankara.
Reunification efforts have been at a standstill since the last round of UN-backed talks collapsed in 2017.
Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, a protege of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has urged the international community to "acknowledge the existence" of two states in Cyprus.
His calls for a two-state solution have been rejected by Greek Cypriots who comprise a majority in the south.
The Republic of Cyprus along with the international community favours a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation in line with a UN framework.
© Agence France-Presse