Britain is returning some of the land it owns on its former colony of Cyprus in order to secure peace. The election victory of the Greek Cypriot Communist Leader Dmitris Hristofyas in February 2008 had caused anxiety in Britain, as Hristofyas had promised in his election campaign to “be rid” of the bases on the island. The Greek Cypriot leader had also described the British presence on the island as “a colonialist bloodstain”, in terms of a possible solution to the Cyprus problem. The British government has acted before Hristofyas for a solution. The British have stated that they will turn over at least one of their sovereign bases on the island to Cypriot land.
The decision taken by Britain due to budget deficit problems has met with reaction from the Greek Cypriot administration. The Greek Cypriot press and politicians share the opinion that this offer will not bring about a solution on the island. The Greek Cypriots hold that Britain is pursuing its own interests rather than a solution on the island and that it is playing this offer made to overcome financial problems as a “contribution to a solution”. Decision aims at cutting down defence costs According to the reporting of the British Channel 4 television on the 12th of December 2009, Britain has announced that within the context of lowering down defence costs it will shut down at least one airbase and scale down the bases on Cyprus.
Britain had previously announced, in November 2009, that it was ready to turn over half of the land of the bases to “United Cyprus” should an agreement be reached and the problem be resolved. Channel 4’s reporting has also underlined that the Ministry of Defence had spent GBP 6 billion on aircraft, ships and submarines in the past ten years and that it had overstepped its budget. It has been stated that the measures taken will go towards balancing the budget. It is claimed that the offer made by the British is aimed more at protecting Britain’s interests and maintaining its presence on the island rather than to contribute to the solution process. The Greek Cypriots hold that the solution on the island will come not through inconcrete offers such as this but political pressure on Ankara.
The Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Markos has emphasised that they do not need encouragement and that unification is the only solution. The Reuters agency states that a similar offer had been made by Britain in 2003 on the condition that the two sides come to an agreement. The Greek Cypriot press interprets Britain’s reiteration of its former offer to turn over some of the British bases’ land to “United Cyprus” should the talks reach a conclusion as an attempt to guarantee the continued presence of Britain on the island with the approval of Greek Cypriots and Turks. The offer had come up in a meeting in London between the Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Hristofyas and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on the 11th of November 2009.
The Fileleftheros newspaper had announced 24 hours before the meeting that Britain would offer a “gift”. In the meeting between the leaders, the British side had offered to turn over 45 square miles of the total base land of 99 square miles to “United Cyprus”, on the condition that “the two leaders come to an agreement over the Cyprus issue, the agreement reached is approved in a referendum by the majority of the population and is formally ratified by both sides”.
The Fileletheros had claimed that through this offer Britain was trying to “place conditions on the agreement to be reached and to guarantee that its bases in Cyprus would remain following the agreement to be reached over the Cyprus problem and to have Cypriots Turks and Greeks approve in a referendum the continuity of its bases on Cyprus”. It should not be expected of the Greek Cypriot administration, which defends the “demilitarisation” of the island and in this context constantly emphasises the withdrawal of Turkish troops from the island to accept this offer made by the guarantor Britain in order to “contribute to peace”. Acceptance of this offer would be the greatest indicator that the Greek Cypriots are contradicting themselves and will put their thesis under question.
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Cyprus’ Strategic Importance for Britain and Britain’s Latest Offer Following the independence of Cyprus, Britain has continued transporting troops and munitions in the Middle East through the bases on Cyprus, in order to maintain its dominance in the region. While with its latest offer Britain seems to be contributing to the process, it is simply guaranteeing the future presence of its bases. The offer is being assessed as part of a policy Britain is following in order to maintain its effective position in Cyprus and the region. The Two British Bases on the Island Subject to the Offer... Britain, which is one of the three guarantor countries for Cyprus along with Turkey and Greece, has two bases on the island. The British posses the Dhekelia Base near Famagusta and the Akrotiri Base in Limmasol. The two bases on the island cover a land area of 245 square kilometres. The two bases make up about 3 per cent of the total area of the island. While 60 per cent of these territories are privately owned by Greek Cypriots and British citizens, 40 per cent belongs to the British Ministry of Defence. Of the 14,000 people who live on sovereign base land, about half are Greek Cypriots who work at the bases or are engaged in agriculture.
The other half is composed of British troops and their families. The bases serve as a bridge for Britain’s troop and munitions deployment in the Middle East. According to information from the Journal Of Military History, Cyprus was of great importance to Britain in the period immediately following the Second World War in terms of displaying its power in the Middle East. The bases were also appropriately situated for an aerial assault against the Soviet Union. After Britain lost the Suez War in 1954, Cyprus became its most guaranteed position in the Middle East. Following Cyprus’ independence in 1960, Britain continued to maintain its bases on the island.
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