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Saturday, January 24, 1998 Published at 14:06 GMT


Military alert in Cyprus

BBC correspondent Chris Drake says there could be danger of a Turkish backlash (2'11)
The Cyprus government is taking formal delivery of a military air-base on Saturday. The base is intended for use by the Greek air force in the event of an attack by Turkey.

The Turkish-Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, has condemned the venture as a hostile investment by the Greek-Cypriots and placed the thirty-five-thousand mainland troops which occupy Northern Cyprus on full alert.

[ image: Rauf Denktash: placed troops on alert]
Rauf Denktash: placed troops on alert
He has also warned the Turkish-Cypriot state may upgrade a minor air-base to full military status: "If the Greek-Cypriot administration inaugurates the Paphos base, the Turkish side will take similar measures."

Cyprus has been divided between Greek and Turkish-Cypriots since Turkey invaded the northern third of the island in 1974.

Defensive role

The Cyprus government insists that the air-base, built next to the civilian airport at Paphos used by thousands of holidaymakers each year, is for purely defensive purposes.

They say it will be used by Greek warplanes for refuelling and, according to the BBC's correspondent in Cyprus, it could have a role in supplying armaments in the event of a Turkish attack.

Greece is several hundred kilometres away, while Turkey's aircraft can reach the island in just a few minutes.

At the moment the base is not operational, although the government spokesperson has agreed it could be put into operation quickly.

Russian-made S-300 ground-to-air missiles, due for delivery in September, will provide protection, another move which has angered Turkey.

Western powers have repeatedly condemned the build-up by both sides in Cyprus but the placing of Turkish troops in the north on full alert is seen more as a sabre-rattling protest than a serious threat.


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