World

53 years later, Australia leaves Cyprus peacekeeping force

With its flag lowered one final time, Australia on Friday ended 53 years of helping to keep the peace on ethnically divided Cyprus by pulling out its last three police officers serving with a United Nations peacekeeping force.

Some 1,600 Australian police officers have served in Cyprus since 1964 following the outbreak of violence between the island's Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. Three Australians were killed in the line of duty in what was their country's first policing contribution to a peacekeeping mission.

A flag-lowering ceremony at the Cypriot capital's defunct airport that serves as the U.N. force's headquarters brought together many officers who served in Cyprus over the decades, including one who was in the first 40-strong contingent, 79-year-old Ian Hardy.

"Cyprus has been a rite of passage for Australian police," retired police Superintendent Phil Spence said, adding that all officers who went on to lead other peacekeeping missions elsewhere in the world were veterans of Cyprus.

Australia's federal police commissioner, Andrew Colvin, said that what served Australians well over decades of service was a "steely determination" and a practicality underneath Australians' famed laid-back style.

It was the excellent rapport with ordinary Cypriots that saw Australian police through the toughest times, said Allan Mitchell, 70, who served on Cyprus during the summer of 1974 when Turkey invaded and split the island along ethnic lines following a coup by supporters of union with Greece.

Australia was also the first peacekeeping contributor to deploy a female officer to Cyprus, in 1988. Its last contingent commander is also a woman — Inspector Bronwyn Carter.

Colvin said Australia is willing to share its federal policing experience if talks now underway succeed in reunifying Cyprus as a federation.

A 2015 rethink of Australia's overseas peacekeeping commitments called for the redeployment of personnel on missions closer to home and to help combat the threat of terrorism.

Some 69 police officers from countries including Ireland, India and Italy augment 835 troops wearing the U.N. trademark blue beret in Cyprus.