The east Mediterranean outpost is a colonial hangover being used in Nato’s Middle East wars, says Stavri Kalopsidiotou
Britain’s Akrotiri base on the south coast of Cyprus is currently being used by RAF Tornados for bombing raids against Isis forces in Iraq.
Just over a year ago the base was being readied to bomb government forces only 80 miles away in Syria. When Syrian government jets carried out a surveillance mission in August 2013, Britain dispatched an additional squadron of Typhoon fighter jets.
The Akrotiri base is no simple airfield. It comprises 100 square miles of British sovereign territory, giving Britain claim to up to 20 per cent of Cyprus’s oil and gas-rich territorial waters.
It is usually garrisoned by 3,500 troops and provides a key intelligence hub for both Britain and the US.
In 2008 then foreign secretary David Miliband signed off a secret £1 billion project, codenamed Tempora, to intercept communications passing through fibre-optic telecommunications cables in the eastern Mediterranean. The information is passed via GCHQ to the US National Security Agency.
The territory was ceded to Britain in 1960 as a condition for Cypriot independence after 80 years of colonial rule.
Britain’s continuing use of it as an advance base in the Middle East for Nato forces became particularly contentious in 1974 as a result of US toleration of the abortive fascist coup in Cyprus and the subsequent Turkish invasion.
The invasion, capturing 40 per cent of the island and forcing out 160,000 refugees, was condemned by the United Nations — but US secretary of state Henry Kissinger vetoed any intervention to reverse it.
Akel, the Cypriot Party of Working People, was the governing party in Cyprus till 2013.
Stavri Kalopsidioutou, the international law spokesperson for Akel, puts the case for closing Britain’s bases.
The demilitarisation of Cyprus must provide not only for the withdrawal of Turkish troops but also for the removal of the British bases either as a result of, or after, any wider agreement.
The demilitarisation of Cyprus has been a longstanding demand of Greek Cypriots and has found its place in United Nations security council resolutions including UNSC resolution 1251 (1993).
The reaction of Akel and of the left progressive movement in Cyprus to the establishment of the British military bases on our country through the Zurich-London agreements of 1960 was immediate opposition.
This opposition was founded, first, on our analysis of the legal status of those foreign military bases vis-a-vis the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus and second on our vision of the world and our anti-military ideology and commitment to peaceful coexistence and co-operation.
Inevitably, the permanent presence of foreign military contingents in our country
results in their use either in aggressive military operations across the region or in illegal espionage activities.
As such, it represents a threat to all Cypriots and intensifies the insecurity resulting from the illegal Turkish military occupation.
There are also health and ecological consequences.
The heavy military usage of our island’s fragile southern coastal areas is combined with the effects on surrounding inhabitants of high-powered radio and telecommunications equipment.
The legal status of the British military bases in Cyprus is disputed first and foremost as a result of the circumstances under which their establishment was agreed.
Under international law an agreement which is the product of duress, which was certainly the case with the so-called sovereign British bases, may be challenged.
Britain’s claimed sovereignty over territories which form part of the Republic of Cyprus is not compatible with customary international law principles by which the territorial integrity and independence of states should be respected by all means.
Additionally, the British government has repeatedly violated the clauses of the Treaty of Establishment which provide for the payment of remuneration and for their use only by the forces of Commonwealth countries. The most blatant violation was the use of these territories by the US in the Iraq war.
Half a century ago in 1960 the treaty might have been justified as part of the process of British decolonisation of our country.
Today it stands as a disgraceful and dangerous anachronism. It sustains a colonial regime, even though in a different form, and is a threat to the Cypriot people.
It is not in the interest of the region or of the international community that foreign military bases remain established in Cyprus. It is not even in the interest of any international stakeholder seeking a viable settlement in Cyprus.
The foreign military presence provides an alibi rendering Cyprus hostage to dangerous foreign external policies that can only destabilise our country.
The attainment of full and unrestricted self-determination is a right for the people of Cyprus. It would represent the realisation of our longstanding demand for demilitarisation and transition to a paradigm of regional peace.
If Britain truly stands for what it preaches, then democracy and international law should prevail. Cyprus should be freed from the shadows of a colonial past and be able to provide a peaceful future for its people.
Of course, a prior prerequisite to that always remains the termination of the illegal Turkish military presence in Cyprus.
Stavri Kalopsidiotou is a member of the central committee of Akel and an international law specialist.