August 25, 2012 (TSR) – Cypriot authorities announced on Thursday that they have asked the British military for a formal explanation, over allegations that the British bases in the island provided support for the Syrian rebels.
The Sunday Times, popular British weekly newspaper had alleged earlier this week that the British bases in the island of Cyprus provided intelligence information for the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), which helped them to better co-ordinate their strikes against the Syrian governmental troops.
In an article published on Sunday, the newspaper cited a Syrian opposition official as saying that the British authorities “know about and approve 100%” of intelligence from their Cyprus military bases being passed through Turkey and American sources and the Turkish sources then pass on the intelligence to the militia of the so-called Free Army (Syrian rebels). The newspaper claimed that British intelligence was helping Syrian rebels launch successful attacks on government forces with information gathered from their listening posts in the British Bases.
“British intelligence is observing things closely from Cyprus,” said the official, adding that “The British are giving the information to the Turks and the Americans and we are getting it from the Turks.”
The Sunday Times said that, according to the official, the most valuable intelligence has been about the movements of the army forces in the city of Aleppo.
The UK owns two military bases in Cyprus, one at Dhekelia and another at Akrotiri. The bases monitor regional airwaves and report to the GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), Britain’s national electronic surveillance center in Cheltenham, the article pointed out.
The unnamed opposition official told the British newspaper that the US and its intelligence services (the CIA) gave his armed group satellite photos through Turkey.
The newspaper also highlighted that the British foreign intelligence (MI6) and the US intelligence (CIA) have overlooked supplies of heavy machine guns coming from the Gulf states.
But the British High Commission in Nicosia on Tuesday declined to comment on it.
“The official government position is that we do not comment on intelligence or operational matters, I am not in a position to give in any further details,” British High Commission Spokesman Michael Howes told the official Cyprus News Agency.
However, he referred to a statement made by Foreign Secretary William Hague on Aug. 10 “which sets out what the UK assistance to the Syrian people and the political opposition in Syria is.”
The assistance mentioned by Hague includes an additional 5 million pounds (7.8 million U.S. dollars) on practical assistance that may include medical supplies and communications equipment to help political activists overcome the Syrian government communications blockade.
Dr. Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, the foreign minister of Cyprus ordered the national investigation agencies to verify the news report. Stefanos Stefanou, the official spokesperson for the Cypriot government had on Thurssday informed the media that Cyprus has already demanded an official explanation in to the incident from both the foreign ministry and the defence ministry of the United Kingdom.
Dr. Kozakou-Marcoullis said during an interview that high ranking British officials have made the statements relating to the British bases in Cyprus and the Syrian involvement, and a reply is urgently needed from the UK to clarify its position.
The Cypriot minister added that if the allegations against the British military authorities are proven, then it will cause serious repercussions and consequences. He reiterated that as per the treaty signed between the Cypriot and the British governments, the bases can only be used for defensive and military purposes.
Cypriot authorities had earlier expressed their reservations about the foreign involvement in the ongoing conflict in Syria. When Dr. Kozakou-Marcoullis visited her counterpart in Moscow, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov, she reiterated and publicly supported the Annan Peace Plan. She agreed with Lavrov that Syrian-led political dialogue and no foreign interference is the best way to solve the Syrian crisis.
The British side has been unhappy, about the laxness shown by the island nation in preventing weapons and arms shipments from reaching the Mediterranean ports of Syria.
The UK operates two Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) in the island of Cyprus – Akrotiri and Dhekelia, when it granted the island independence in 1960, after a four-year guerilla war. The bases cover some 250 square kilometres of area, which constitutes to close to 4% of the total area of the government controlled part of the island. In addition to some 8,000 British servicemen and their family members, close to 7,000 Cypriots also live in the SBAs.
The Dhekelia base near the port and airport city of Larnaca is the home of a British regiment and is also used as a communications and intelligence center.
The base at Akrotiri, near the southern city of Limassol, is by far the most important one. It is an active airbase providing logistics support to NATO troops in Afghanistan and is also a vital hub in NATO’s worldwide intelligence gathering system.
The importance of the bases to the British is based on the strategic location of Cyprus, at the eastern edge of the Mediterranean, close to the Suez Canal and the Middle East; the ability to use the RAF base as staging post for military aircraft; and for general training purposes.
The Cypriot authorities have demanded the evacuation of the bases ever since the 1990s, a demand which has been repeatedly rejected by the British government.
The United Kingdom has shown no intention of surrendering the bases, although it has offered to surrender 117 square kilometres (45 sq mi) of farmland as part of the rejected Annan Plan for Cyprus.
The base was actively used to provide air support to rebel forces during the campaign against late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Cyprus is the third Member State of the current Trio EU Presidency, along with Poland and Denmark. The 18 month period of the Trio began on July 1, 2011, with the Polish Presidency and will be completed on December 31, 2012, when the Cyprus Presidency will be concluded.
Dr. Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, as the rotating President representing Cyprus, chairs all of the Council configurations, with the exception of the Foreign Affairs Council, which has a permanent president. This formation is presided over by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, currently Baroness Catherine Ashton.