British bases out! For a reunified, demilitarised Cyprus

The South African and subsequent cases before the ICJ on complicity with war crimes against countries supplying Israel with bombs and explosives in the course of Israel’s assault on Gaza has prompted a resurgence of the issue of the presence of “the sovereign” British military bases in Cyprus. Vera Polycarpou writes on the continuing struggle for a reunified, demilitarised Cyprus

After more than four months of relentless bombing of the Gaza Strip UNCTAD, on the basis of analysis, reports that unprecedented level of destruction renders the area, inhabited by 2.3 million Palestinians, uninhabitable. More than 80% of the buildings have been destroyed or damaged, a staggering destruction mostly of housing units, but also of all civilian infrastructure, hospitals, schools. Practically no water, electricity or fuel supplies are available. The area of 365sq km has been subjected to one of the most intense bombing campaigns against a populated area; Israeli planes have been unleashing hell dropping thousands of bombs – according to reports ranging from 150kg to 1000kg – that killed over 27,000 and wounded over 65,000 Palestinians, mostly children and women. Almost the entire population has been displaced. 

Facts speak of gross violations of International Humanitarian Law, of war crimes tantamount to ethnic cleansing.  The case brought by South Africa against Israel is before the ICJ. Subsequently other cases have been presented in the ICJ for complicity against countries supplying Israel with bombs and explosives in the course of Israel’s war against Gaza.

It is against this background that the issue of the presence of “the sovereign” British military bases in Cyprus have once again surged to the forefront.  Cyprus is only about 400 km away from the Gaza Strip, making the RAF military airport at Acrotiri a 40-minutes-long flight (if not less) from the war zone.  In other words, Acrotiri is the nearest base of a NATO member to the region. Residents of the area around Acrotiri have been reporting intense activity at the airport as well as increased presence of military personnel. Such activity is not unprecedented, as similar situations were observed in the past during the US and allies’ wars against Iraq, Afghanistan and more recently Syria.

Confirmation of the above has come from “Declassified UK” which has been reporting of the involvement of the RAF Acrotiri in Israel’s war on Gaza.  These reports speak of surveillance flights over Gaza, and I quote: The British plane used is the Shadow R1, which is known as an intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) aircraft. The Shadow R1 is operated by the UK military’s No.14 Squadron, which is based at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, east England.” More reports reveal multiple flights from Acrotiri to Tel Aviv, transporting military equipment.  These have been resourced from US bases around Europe where war material is stockpiled, and transferred through the British bases in Cyprus to Israel.  Evidently the British base of Acrotiri, near Limassol, is been used also by the US, both for flights to Israel and for the stationing of troops.  Of particular concern is the information that the US also flew war material to Acrotiri from its Incirlic base in Turkey.  Of course, NATO-member Turkey is a US and Britain’s close ally but it is also the country that is occupying 37% of our island’s territory since 1974.  This act alone shows the utter disrespect of both Britain and the US to Cyprus’ sovereignty.

Over this period, Members of the House of Commons have questioned the relevant members of the British Government over the use of the British base in Acrotiri for the supply of war equipment to Israel since the start of the war on Gaza in October 2023.  Although these were faced with refusal to respond, the very fact that the questions were made bears its own significance: it brings to the light Britain’s complicity with the genocidal war against the Palestinian people.  However, on the other hand, the same Government members did not hide the fact that the British planes that bombed the Houthis in Yemen had flown out of Acrotiri.

It has also to be said that Government officials of the Republic of Cyprus alleged ignorance of the use of Acrotiri in support of Israel, stating that according to the Treaties (that granted Cyprus independence from Britain in 1960) Britain was not obliged to inform the Government.  Such statements in no way absolve the Cyprus Government from its responsibilities and it may well be considered a complicit.

It might not be known that Britain has two and not just one “Sovereign” British Bases in Cyprus: one in Acrotiri  & Episcopi near Limassol, and another in Dhekelia near Larnaca comprising around 3% of the island.  Britain has military and intelligence installations also on the highest peak of the Troodos Mountain, eavesdropping on the whole region and further out.  Obviously, the geostrategic location of Cyprus between three continents, central in the energy routes and energy resources of the Eastern Mediterranean made it, as they say, “vital” for Britain’s “national interests”.  Thus, Britain granted Cyprus independence without ever leaving.

The British “sovereign” bases in Cyprus represent a remnant of colonial times, hence an anachronism in the 21st century.  Their very existence and use against other peoples of the region, constitutes a threat to our country and people and their security. In the current conjunction, when the constant escalation of tensions and provocations by Israel, the US, Britain and some of their allies against countries of the region threaten to cause a regional conflagration, we demand that the bases in Cyprus are left out of their war-games and be dismantled.

Recently, European and international media “discovered” that there are Cypriot political forces and organisations protesting the presence of the bases and demanding their dismantling. However, the Cyprus Peace Council as well as AKEL, have been protesting against the presence of the bases since 1964, when the 1st Peace March was held.  For AKEL, after almost 50 years of occupation and artificial division, the solution of the Cyprus problem remains the priority; AKEL is leading the struggle to reunify Cyprus and its people -Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots- under a Bizonal Bicommunal Federation with political equality, and the demilitarization of the island. This of course means the withdrawal of the over 30 thousand Turkish troops, but also the dismantling of the recently opened drone base in the illegal airport of Lefkonico, and the planed naval base near Trikomo. By all means, this also means the dismantling of the British bases.  Only then Cyprus will have full sovereignty and will be the bridge of peace with the peoples and countries of our region and not a launchpad for wars against them.

Now that the thousands of people came time and again out in the streets of London and other cities demanding “Ceasefire Now” and “Stop the Genocide”, it is timely that they should take up the demand of the peace movement in Cyprus and of AKEL and demand the dismantling of the British bases in Cyprus and all other bases. Demand to put a final end to their country’s colonial past which is perpetuated through the anachronistic presence of military bases around the world. Demand an end to the fuelling of conflicts and wars that destroy human lives as well as endanger the future of life on our planet.

Vera Polycarpou is a member of the central committee and head of International Relations and European Policy of Cyprus’ AKEL party

Photo: Demonstration in Akrotiri, Cyprus in January 2024 against the British bases on the island

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This article was first published in Liberation Journal

The views expressed in the articles published on this website do not necessarily represent those of Liberation

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