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Wednesday, 4 July, 2001, 16:12 GMT 17:12 UK
Cyprus: A slice of Britain abroad
Riot at the Akrotiri base in Cyprus
Local people are protesting at new radio masts
By World Affairs correspondent Elizabeth Blunt

To describe Akrotiri as a British military base hardly does it justice.

A whole coastal peninsula in southern Cyprus, nearly 125 square kilometres (78 square miles) of it, is British territory.

There is not just a large air base, and the salt lake which is at the centre of the current protests, but everything that is needed to make it a home from home for the British personnel and their families stationed there.

There are schools and churches, golf courses and tennis courts, cinemas and Indian restaurants.

Another similar enclave exists around Dhekelia, further east, and Britain also leases land for a communications station in the mountains in the centre of the island.

Altogether Britain has more than 3,000 military personnel based in Cyprus; families and civilian staff bring the British population of the bases to around 8,000.

Treaty agreemment

The history of the enclaves goes back to 1960, when Britain was preparing to relinquish its rule over Cyrpus after a punishing independence war.

But although it might have been glad to get rid of the troublesome Cypriots, it still wanted a military foothold in the eastern Mediterranean.

Cyprus, just a few miles from the coasts of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel, and not far from Egypt, Libya and Greece, is perfectly placed.

And so Britain negotiated a treaty with both Greece and Turkey to create an independent Republic of Cyprus, but to retain the Akrotiri and Dhekelia base areas as British sovereign territory.

The base areas give Britain port and airfield facilities but also - and perhaps more importantly nowadays - the perfect electronic listening post to monitor signals of every kind from the Middle East, North Africa and the Balkans.

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14 Jun 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Cyprus
07 Jun 01 | Europe
Timeline: Cyprus
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