NEWS

America seeks use of Cypriot ports, air space

NICOSIA (Combined reports) – The United States, poised to launch a war on Iraq, has asked for access to Cypriot airports and air space, a senior government official said yesterday. The east Mediterranean island already has an agreement with Washington for use of facilities relating to the US-led fight against terror. The USA wants to broaden the scope of this accord to cover Iraq-related operations. «The request was made for blanket use of facilities… for Iraqi contingencies,» Foreign Minister George Iakovou told reporters, without elaborating. «We will take all relevant factors into account but in the final analysis we will take a decision that serves our national interests,» he said. However, with opposition on the island to unilateral US action strong, the Cabinet – which is due to issue its response after convening today – appeared likely to limit the use of Cypriot facilities to relief flights for refugees and other humanitarian aid. «It would be for purely humanitarian reasons,» said Defense Minister Koullis Mavronicolas. «That means there would be no role for Cyprus’s ports or airports in the event of a war,» he told reporters. «Cyprus is a peace-loving country and does not wish to become involved in war operations,» government spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides said yesterday. Acting President Dimitris Christofias, who holds the post while the newly elected Tassos Papadopoulos is abroad for medical reasons, has already expressed his opposition to allowing US access for war preparations. Under the existing agreement dating from 2001, US aircraft can use refueling facilities at Larnaca and Paphos airports and its vessels can freely dock at the island’s ports. Britain, the USA’s closest ally on Iraq, is allowed unrestricted use of Cypriot air space under a 1959 treaty which gave the former colony independence. Its RAF base at Akrotiri in southern Cyprus is a refueling and supplies post. (Reuters, AP)