Britain to retain its two Cyprus military bases

Britain will retain both its military bases in Cyprus following the completion of a review of their operations, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said on Thursday.

He confirmed Britain?s ?enduring commitment? to the bases, saying they had proved their worth during air operations in Libya and as a logistic hub for activities in Afghanistan.

?The sovereign base areas are in a region of geo-political importance and high priority for the United Kingdom?s long-term national security interests,? he said in a written statement to parliament.

Britain has two extensive bases on the Mediterranean island, at Akrotiri and Dhekelia, which it kept when Cyprus won independence in 1960.

The bases would also play a role in the withdrawal of British military operations from Afghanistan, Hammond added, as Britain brings back its 9,500 troops by the end of 2014.

The Cyprus review, announced in May, followed an extensive examination of defence needs, which has led to plans for sharp cuts in military personnel and equipment over four years.

The RAF base at Akrotiri and the army barracks at Dhekelia cover 98 sq miles (254 sq km) or around 3 percent of Cyprus?s landmass.

Britain has previously offered to return around half the territory if rival sides of the ethnically split island reached a peace deal.

The United Nations has been trying for years to reunite Cyprus, divided between its Greek and Turkish Cypriot populations in 1974 after a Turkish invasion of the north of the island prompted by a brief Greek-inspired coup.

On Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council threw its weight behind a push by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to clinch a Cyprus deal, urging the rival parties to speed up talks and be more constructive. [Reuters]

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