A demanding military operation led by an experienced officer

UN Peacekeeping Cyprus
Major General Ingrid Margrethe Gjerde. Photo: UNFICYP

Major General Ingrid Margrethe Gjerde did not hesitate when she was encouraged to apply for the position as Force Commander for the UN peacekeeping mission in Cyprus. The experienced officer is the second Norwegian to hold the demanding position.

 “I have a lot of responsibility, but it is professionally and personally motivating to have the opportunity to lead such a sharp operation. We hope to help make a difference,” says Gjerde.

One of the oldest UN peacekeeping forces

The UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) was established on 4 March 1964 because of violent unrest between the two ethnic groups in the country – Cypriots of Greek and Turkish origin.

The mission is led by a civilian commander, Canadian Elizabeth Spehar, who is the UN special representative on the island. Spehar has a broad remit to facilitate negotiations on a future solution to the bitter/demanding conflict. The military operation is led by Force Commander Ingrid Gjerde.

“The important thing is to help find good long-term political solutions. We do this militarily by ensuring that the parties comply with the rules of the buffer zone and that the military situation is stable. This lays the foundation for a good negotiating climate,” says Gjerde.

A continuous balancing act

UN Peacekeeping Cyprus
Chief of mission Elizabeth Spehar, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, UN Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping ,Ingrid Gjerde and Argentinian officers. Photo: UNFICYP

As a result of Turkey’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus, a ceasefire divided the island and a functioning buffer zone under UN supervision was established. The demilitarized buffer zone stretches over 180 kilometers across the island, covering an area of about 346 square kilometers.

Greek Cypriots make up 78.6% of the island’s population, Turkish Cypriots just under 20% (2011). The island also has a small Armenian and Maronite population living mainly in the capital Nicosia.

UN Peacekeeping Cyprus
At an observation post; from left to right. Elizabeth Spehar chief of mission, Ingrid Gjerde and Satu Koivu, police adviser. Foto: UNFICYP

“We have to make sure that we do our job in a way that does not provoke, because then we risk the fight flaring up again. There is an ongoing balance between being clear to the parties about what is and is not acceptable in the buffer zone, but at the same time having a good dialogue with them that they have confidence in the UN and the political process,” says Gjerde, who took office in May 2021.

The military operations are mainly about monitoring, reporting and dialogue. “We monitor the military forces on both sides, but also those who are allowed to stay in the buffer zone for various reasons. There are a number of authorized civilian activities in the zone, including farmers from both the north and the south who are farming on their own land. There are also cultural sites such as cemeteries and churches,” says Gjerde.

In addition to driving, walking, and cycling patrols, the military forces work closely with the UN police and civilian justice branch. Together, the three elements make up the so-called “integrated mission”.

Major General and Political Scientist

Peacekeeping Cyprus
Patrolling on bicycles. Photo: UNFICYP

 Ingrid Gjerde’s military career began with officer training in 1987 and she has since held a number of positions in the armed forces, both nationally and in international operations. In addition to extensive military training, she holds a master’s degree in political science from the University of Oslo.

“The highlights of my career have been the times I have participated in operations abroad because we solve sharp missions together with other nations and this really challenges me. Particularly in this assignment I get to use my skills as a political scientist and my interest in international politics”.

She stresses that something that is very important for the mission to succeed is that she has a thorough understanding of the conflict and communicates well both internally in the mission and with the actors.

Peacekeeping Cyprus

Gjerde has previously been stationed in Lebanon, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Afghanistan, so she is no stranger to new cultures. “I find other cultures very enjoyable and here on the island there is a lot of variety. Also, the force here is made up of staff from 16 different nations and I find that very exciting. Challenging at times, but first and foremost rewarding,” she says with a smile.

Despite long days at work, the 52-year-old will make sure she has time to experience the small island. “I’m looking forward to exploring the exciting history, the beautiful nature, eating the food and getting to know the people here better. I also have twins aged 21 and a husband who I hope will come visit from time to time,” she says.

The conflict is in a demanding/challenging phase

UNFICYP is a three-fold mission. First, avoid violent unrest, maintain law and order and finally, restore the situation back to normal. Gjerde points out that the latter is somewhat controversial because how to define normal conditions?

Cyprus UN Peacekeeping
Observation. Photo: UNFICYP

Both the UN and the EU have defined normal conditions for Cyprus to become one well-functioning state with/under regional governance. As of today, however, the situation in Cyprus is in a/at a stalemate.

“It’s not just about two parties, the conflict concerns big politics. There are several actors with strong interests that make it much more challenging than just having two parties talking to each other,” says Gjerde.

Between 2014 and 2017, both parties and the major powers came close to finding a solution to most issues, including land division and governance. These negotiations were led by Norway’s former Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, who until August 2017 was Cyprus’ special adviser to the UN Secretary-General.

“After these negotiations failed to produce a solution, it has been very stalemated. The parties did not want to meet and that is the worst starting point for finding a solution,” says Gjerde.


As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, all 9 north-south border crossings were closed. Discussions and disagreements about vaccines and general management of the pandemic have made the situation even more difficult. But when the parties met in Geneva in April 2021 to try to restart talks, they agreed to meet again in the autumn.

The Major General’s approach to the so-far rigid situation is that they are forced to act when faced with challenges. “Despite strong statements from the parties now, it is still possible to eventually meet and make progress,” she said.

The more we contribute, the more we are heard

Gjerde with UN Police Koivu. Photo: UNFICYP

 Norway has been one of the largest and most regular contributors to UN peacekeeping operations. Today, Norway contributes police, experts, and military personnel to four of the UN’s ongoing operations.

“As a small nation, it is particularly important that we have an organization like the UN that gives us a voice in the world. That’s why we should really take the opportunity to both contribute and use our voice. I have no doubt that the more we contribute, the more we are heard,” Gjerde stresses.

As of today, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations has 12 ongoing operations around the world. 90,000 peacekeepers are helping countries with the difficult transition from conflict to peace, providing security and political peacekeeping support.

“You can criticize the UN for being too bureaucratic, but the UN is very important for peace and stability in the world. Some research that has been done on peacekeeping forces shows that with relatively small military resources, the level of conflict has been reduced and this has probably saved many lives and helped to reduce or resolve conflicts,” says Gjerde.


She also points out that the UN’s bureaucracy and cross-cultural understanding provide much of the basis for cooperation. “In a globalized world, we are increasingly dependent on international cooperation to ensure peace and stability.”


 Leraand, Dag: United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus I Store norske leksikon på snl.no

Thuesen, Nils Petter; Lundbo, Sten: Kypros i Store norske leksikon på snl.no

This article in Norwegian: https://unric.org/no/en-krevende-militaer-operasjon-ledet-av-en-erfaren-offiser/