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Sovereign Base Areas Of Akrotiri And Dhekelia In Cyprus
Information on the British Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus
Kalopanayiotis Village Photo © CyprusExpat.co.uk
Akrotiri and Dhekelia (Greek: Ακρωτήρι και Δεκέλεια, Akrotiri kai Dekeleia, Turkish: Ağrotur ve Dikelya), officially the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia (SBA; Greek: Περιοχές Κυρίαρχων Βάσεων Ακρωτηρίου και Δεκέλιας, Periochés Kyríarchon Váseon Akrotiríou kai Dekéleias; Turkish: Egemen Üs Bölgeleri Ağrotur ve Dikelya), is a British Overseas Territory on the island of Cyprus.
The areas, which include British military bases and installations, as well as other land, were retained by the British under the 1960 treaty of independence, signed by the United Kingdom, Greece, Turkey and representatives from the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, which granted independence to the Crown colony of Cyprus. The territory serves an important role as a station for Signals Intelligence and provides a vital strategic part of the United Kingdom communications gathering and monitoring network in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
The territory comprises two Base Areas.
One is Akrotiri (Greek: Ακρωτήρι [akroˈtiri]; Turkish: Ağrotur), or the Western Sovereign Base Area (WSBA), which includes two main bases at RAF Akrotiri and Episkopi Cantonment, plus all of Akrotiri Village's district (including Limassol Salt Lake) and parts of eleven other village districts.
The other area is Dhekelia Cantonment (Δεκέλεια [ðeˈceʎa]; Dikelya), or the Eastern Sovereign Base Area (ESBA), which includes a base at Ayios Nikolaos plus parts of twelve village districts.
The Sovereign Base Areas were created in 1960 by the Treaty of Establishment, when Cyprus achieved independence from the British Empire. The United Kingdom desired to retain sovereignty over these areas, as this guaranteed the use of UK military bases on Cyprus, including RAF Akrotiri, and a garrison of the British Army. The importance of the bases to the British is based on the strategic location of the island, 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 training.
In 1974, following a military coup by the Greek-Cypriot National Guard attempting to achieve enosis (union with Greece), Turkey invaded the north of Cyprus, leading to the establishment of the internationally unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. This did not affect the status of the bases. Greek Cypriots fleeing from the Turks were permitted to travel through the Dhekelia Sovereign Base Area and were given humanitarian aid, with those from Achna setting up a new village (Dasaki Achnas or Achna Forest) which is still in the Dhekelia Sovereign Base Area.
The Turkish advance halted when it reached the edge of the Dhekelia Sovereign Base Area to avoid military conflict with the United Kingdom. In the Akrotiri Sovereign Base Area a tented refugee camp was set up at "Happy Valley" (part of the Episkopi Cantonment) to house Turkish Cypriots fleeing from Limassol and the villages surrounding the Area, until in 1975 they were flown out of RAF Akrotiri via Turkey to northern Cyprus. Some Greek Cypriot refugees remain housed on land in the parts of Trachoni and Kolossi villages that fall within the Akrotiri Sovereign Base Area.
Criticism and disputes
In July 2001, protests were held at the bases by local Cypriots, angry at British plans to construct radio masts at the bases as part of an upgrade of British military communication posts around the world. Locals claimed the masts would endanger local lives and cause cancer, as well as have a negative impact on wildlife in the area. The British and Cypriot governments jointly commissioned health research from the University of Bristol and the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Cyprus, and that research project reported in 2005 that there were no evidence of health problems being caused by electromagnetic fields from the antennas. The Sovereign Base Areas Administration has carried out assessments and surveys into the effects on wildlife, which have fed into an "Akrotiri Peninsula Environmental Management Plan", published in September 2012.
The United Kingdom has shown no intention of ceding the Base Areas in their entirety to Cypriot control, although it has offered to cede 117 square kilometres (45 sq mi) of farmland as part of the rejected Annan Plan for Cyprus. As of 2010, around 3,000 troops of British Forces Cyprus are based at Akrotiri and Dhekelia. Ayios Nikolaos Station, in the ESBA, is a GCHQ electronic intelligence listening station of the UKUSA intelligence network.
The election of left-wing Dimitris Christofias as Cypriot president in February 2008 prompted concern in the United Kingdom. Christofias pledged to remove all foreign military forces from the island as part of a future settlement of the Cyprus dispute, calling the British presence on the island a "colonial bloodstain". He left office in 2013 with the bases in place.
On 29 August 2013, during the Syrian Civil War, some Cypriot and British media sources speculated that long-range ballistic missiles, fired from Syria in retaliation for proposed British involvement in military intervention against the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, could hit Cyprus, and could potentially deliver chemical weapons. In some Cypriot media it was stated that the proposed interdiction of the Syrian civil war, utilising Akrotiri and Dhekelia, could recklessly endanger the Cypriot populations near to those bases. Two days earlier, on 27 August 2013, Cypriot foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides had moved to calm Cypriot concerns, saying that the British bases were unlikely to play a major part in any intervention.
In January 2010, a newspaper article appeared in the British press claiming that as a result of budgetary constraints arising from the late 2000s recession, the British Ministry of Defence drew up controversial plans to withdraw the United Kingdom's 3,000 strong garrison and end the use of Cyprus as a staging point for ground forces. The Labour government under whom the proposal appeared was replaced by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition and their defence review did not mention the issue.
On 15 December 2012 in a written statement to the lower house the Secretary of State for Defence of the UK government (Phillip Hammond) revealed the findings of a report on the SBA military bases following the completion of a review of their operations by Lord Ashcroft:
The Sovereign Base areas are in a region of geo-political importance and high priority for the United Kingdom’s long term national security interests...Our military personnel, United Kingdom civilians and locally employed personnel in the Sovereign Base Areas make a major contribution to the national security of the United Kingdom and will continue to do so in the future.
The SBAs were retained in 1960 to keep military bases in areas under British sovereignty, along with the rights retained to use other sites in what became the territory of the Republic. That makes them different from the other remaining British Overseas Territories, except for the British Indian Ocean Territory which was similarly carved out of a former colony as a site for a military base, although in that case the base was to be used by the United States and the inhabitants (Chagossians) were all removed.
The basic philosophy of their administration was declared by Her Majesty's Government in 'Appendix O' to the 1960 treaty with Cyprus, which provided that the British government intended:
Not to develop the Sovereign Base Areas for other than military purposes.
Not to set up and administer "colonies".
Not to create customs posts or other frontier barriers between the Sovereign Base Areas and the Republic.
Not to set up or permit the establishment of civilian commercial or industrial enterprises except insofar as these are connected with military requirements, and not otherwise to impair the economic commercial or industrial unity and life of the Island.
Not to establish commercial or civilian seaports or airports.
Not to allow new settlement of people in the Sovereign Base Areas other than for temporary purposes.
Not to expropriate private property within the Sovereign Base Areas except for military purposes on payment of fair compensation.
The ancient monuments and antiquity (in particular the site and remains of Curium, Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates near Curium, the Stadium of Curium and the Church and remains of the Monastery of St. Nicholas of the Cats) will be administered and maintained by the Republic of Cyprus. Licences for antiquity excavation will be issued by the Republic but will be subject to the consent of the authorities of the Sovereign Base Areas. Movable antiquities found in excavations or discovered will be the property of the Republic.
According to the Ministry of Defence,
Because the SBAs are primarily required as military bases and not ordinary dependent territories, the Administration reports to the Ministry of Defence in London. It has no formal connection with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or the British High Commission in Nicosia, although there are close informal links with both offices on policy matters.
The territory is administered by an Administrator, who is also the Commander of British Forces Cyprus (Air Vice-Marshal Mike Wigston). The Administrator is officially appointed by the British monarch, on the advice of the Ministry of Defence. The Administrator has all the executive and legislative authority of a governor of an overseas territory. A Chief Officer is appointed, and is responsible to the Administrator for the day-to-day running of the civil government, with subordinate Area Officers responsible for the civil administration of the two areas. No elections are held in the territory, although British citizens are normally entitled to vote in United Kingdom elections (as British Forces or overseas electors).
The areas have their own legal system, distinct from the United Kingdom and the Republic of Cyprus. This consists of the laws of the Colony of Cyprus as at August 1960, amended as necessary. The laws of Akrotiri and Dhekelia are closely aligned with, and in some cases identical to, the laws operating within the Republic of Cyprus. The Court of the Sovereign Base Areas is concerned with non-military offences committed by any person within Akrotiri and Dhekelia, and law and order is maintained by the Sovereign Base Areas Police, while offences involving British Forces Cyprus and military law are dealt with by the Cyprus Joint Police Unit.
Fire and Rescue services are provided by the Defence Fire and Risk Management Organisation through stations at Episkopi, Akrotiri, Dhekelia and Ayios Nikolayos. The Defence Medical Services provide emergency ambulance cover based from medical centres in the main bases. All emergency services are accessible from any telephone using the Europe-wide emergency number 112.
Akrotiri and Dhekelia cover 3% of the land area of Cyprus, a total of 254 km2 (98 sq mi) (split 123 km2 (47 sq mi) (48.5%) at Akrotiri and 131 km2 (51 sq mi) (51.5%) at Dhekelia). 60% of the land is privately owned as freeholds by Cypriot citizens; the other 40% is controlled by the Ministry of Defence as Crown lease hold land.
In January 2014, an agreement between the Cypriot and UK governments was signed, ensuring that residents and property owners in the British Bases will enjoy equal rights for the development of property. In addition to Akrotiri and Dhekelia, the Treaty of Establishment also provided for the continued use by the British Ministry of Defence and the British Armed Forces of certain facilities within the Republic of Cyprus, known as Retained Sites.
Akrotiri is located in the south of the island, near the city of Limassol (or Lemesos). Dhekelia is in the southeast, near Larnaca. Both areas include military bases, as well as farmland and some residential land. Akrotiri is surrounded by territory controlled by the Republic of Cyprus, but Dhekelia also borders on the United Nations (UN) buffer zone and the area controlled by the Turkish forces.
Ayia Napa lies to the east of Dhekelia. The villages of Xylotymbou and Ormidhia, also in the Republic of Cyprus, are enclaves surrounded by Dhekelia. The Dhekelia Power Station, divided by a British road into two parts, also belongs to the Republic of Cyprus. The northern part is an enclave, like the two villages, whereas the southern part is located by the sea, and therefore not an enclave, though it has no territorial waters of its own.
Territorial waters of 3 nautical miles (5.556 km) are claimed, and the right according to the laws of the United Nations to extend the claim of up to 12 nautical miles (22.224 km) is reserved.
Wildlife and ecology
Cyprus is an important migration flyway for birds between Africa and Europe and millions of birds are killed yearly as they migrate over the island. To protect resident and migratory birds, BirdLife Cyprus and the RSPB survey areas of illegal trapping. More than 150 species of birds, over half of conservation concern, have been trapped in nets, or on limesticks, and it is estimated that organised crime gangs earn over 15 million Euros yearly.
The dead birds are sold to provide the main ingredient for ambelopoulia in the Republic of Cyprus; an illegal delicacy served to restaurant diners. The 2015 survey estimated a maximum 19 km (12 mi) of mist nets across both the Republic and the British Territories, and more than 5,300 limesticks removed, mainly in the Republic. It is estimated that over 2 million birds were killed in 2015 including over 800,000 on British Territories.
The beaches in the British Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) are important nesting sites for the endangered green Chelonia mydas and loggerhead Caretta caretta turtles. The SBA Environment Department, assisted by a large volunteer effort, has monitored turtle nesting success on SBA beaches since 1990. Disturbance to nesting turtles is an issue in some areas due to activities such as camping, driving on beaches and illegal fishing. Sea turtles in Cyprus are protected as priority species under the Protection and Management of Nature and Wildlife Ordinance (implementing the provisions of the Habitats Directive), enacted in 2007.
In December 2015, 5 Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) were designated in the Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas. The five SACs designated are Akrotiri, Episkopi, Cape Pyla, Dhekelia and Agios Nikolaos.The designations were made under the Protection and Management of Nature and Wildlife Ordinance and will support the existing network (NATURA 2000) of SACs in Cyprus and across Europe.
When the areas were being established, the boundaries were deliberately drawn to avoid centres of population. Approximately 15,700 people live in the areas. About 7,700 native Cypriots work in the areas themselves, or on farmland within the boundaries of the areas. The British military and their families make up the rest of the population.
Persons may in theory be eligible to claim the British Overseas Territories citizenship or the BOTC status through a personal connection to the areas; but unlike most other British Overseas Territories, there is no provision in the British Nationality Acts by which British citizenship (with the right of abode in the United Kingdom) can either be claimed through automatic entitlement or be applied for by means of registration, from or through a sole personal connection to the Base Areas.
Under the terms of the 1960 agreement with Cyprus establishing the Sovereign Base Areas, the United Kingdom is committed not to use the areas for civilian purposes. This was stated in 2002 as the primary reason for the exclusion of the areas from the scope of the British Overseas Territories Act 2002.
There are no economic statistics gathered for Akrotiri and Dhekelia. The main economic activities are the provision of services to the military, as well as limited agriculture. When the territory under the effective control of the Republic of Cyprus switched currencies from the Cypriot pound to the euro on 1 January 2008, Akrotiri and Dhekelia followed suit making the Sovereign Base Areas the only territory under British sovereignty to officially use the euro.
BFBS Radio 1 and 2 are broadcast on FM and can be widely received across Cyprus. BFBS Television is now only available to entitled viewers via satellite, having been confined to the SBAs or encrypted in 1997 for copyright reasons, before BFBS switched off its analogue transmitters in 2009. Limassol BBC Relay is situated locally.
The Base Areas form part of the Republic of Cyprus telephone numbering plan, using the international prefix +357. Landline numbers are in the same eight-digit format, with the last four digits being the extension number. Numbers in Dhekelia begin with the digits 2474, while those in Akrotiri begin with the digits 2527.
Postal services are provided by the British Forces Post Office, with mail to Akrotiri being addressed to BFPO 57 and mail to Dhekelia and Aylos Nikolaos being addressed to BFPO 58.
The bases are issued different amateur radio call signs from the Republic of Cyprus. Amateur radio stations on the bases use the International Telecommunication Union prefix of "ZC4", which is assigned to Great Britain.] There are about 52 amateurs licensed in this manner.
Amateur radio direction finding identified RAF Akrotiri as the location of the powerful but now defunct shortwave numbers station "Lincolnshire Poacher". Several curtain antennas there have had been identified as being used for these transmissions.
Service Children's Education oversees education for children of personnel and MoD employees. The Eastern Sovereign Base Area is served by Dhekelia Primary School and Ayios Nikolaos Primary School, which are feeders for King Richard School. The Western Sovereign Base Area is served by Episkopi Primary School and Akrotiri Primary School, which are feeders for St. John's School.