NEWS

Britain’s Cypriot bases are a vital military staging point

NICOSIA (AFP) – Britain’s two sovereign base areas (SBAs) in Cyprus cover 98 square miles (250 square kilometers) – an area a quarter of the size of Hong Kong – and are considered to have vital strategic interests as listening and military posts. The centers include the Episkopi garrison and RAF (Royal Air Force) Akrotiri, as well as a listening station at Aghios Nikolaos. Akrotiri is the largest RAF base outside Britain and an important staging post for military aircraft. It is also an essential part of Britain’s global communications and surveillance network. The bases enable Britain to maintain a permanent military presence at a strategic point in the eastern Mediterranean and provide a training ground for its forces. About 3,000 UK-based military personnel train annually in Cyprus. Logistical role British Forces Cyprus consist of 3,325 servicemen and women – 2,169 from the land forces army, 1,129 from the RAF and 27 from the Royal Navy. They are supported by approximately 400 British civilian personnel. The total British population at the bases, which includes 4,800 dependents, is 8,500. In 1970 there were around 6,000 troops stationed on the island. However, as in the 1991 Gulf War, it is more than likely that RAF Akrotiri and the British troops stationed here would be used in a logistical role, according to analysts. Britain has assured its close ally the USA the full use of its security and intelligence agencies around the world. This includes the GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) listening post at Aghios Nikolaos, the main allied one in the Middle East. The base is able to monitor Arab and other regional communications systems through its use of satellite interception antennae which analysts say could prove invaluable in the fight against international terrorism. Based in Cyprus are two resident 600-strong infantry battalions, an engineering support squadron, a signal unit, a helicopter fleet, and five Wessex Mk2 helicopters, all of which are at the disposal of the US government should they wish to use them. Since the 1960s, the bases have helped protect Britain’s oil interests, in part replacing the Suez Canal foothold from which it was ejected by Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser. 10,000 sorties More recently, their value was highlighted in the 1991 Gulf War when they played a logistical and refueling role. Ten thousand sorties were flown from there, though not as part of the bombing raids. American U2 spy planes also use RAF Akrotiri as part of the UN mission to monitor the Camp David peace accord in the Middle East. Although July’s anti-bases riots, over controversial giant antennae at Akrotiri, strained relations between Nicosia and London, there has been a history of close cooperation. Successive governments have not raised the issue of the bases as Britain is seen as a powerful ally in efforts to join the EU and solve the island’s political division. The SBAs of Akrotiri and Dekelia are those parts of the island which are under British jurisdiction. They remained British sovereign territory under the 1960 Treaty of Establishment which created the independent Republic of Cyprus. Cyprus has grown accustomed to tarnishing media allegations suggesting offshore banks held fortunes belonging to deposed Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic or the ill-gotten gains of the Russia mafia.