- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2002

NICOSIA, Cyprus Britain has announced plans to upgrade its military bases in Cyprus, setting off alarms that the Eastern Mediterranean island nation will be dragged into a war against "rogue" nations in the Middle East.
Cypriot officials are expressing concern that the country, which has no say in the matter, could be exposed to reprisals with devastating consequences.
Under a 1960 independence agreement, the bases here are considered sovereign British territory.
Expansion of the base facilities was announced after a three-day inspection by Lt. Gen. John Reith, chief of joint operations at the Permanent Joint Headquarters in Britain.
It came at a time of rising speculation that the United States may be planning to leave its bases in Saudi Arabia because of security concerns and worsening relations between Washington and the Arab oil kingdom.
If that happens, the British bases in Cyprus would be invaluable to the United States and its allies, diplomats say.
The British announcement, which included notification of a change in status from a "staging base" to a "forward operating base," immediately triggered concern about preparations for a strike against Iraq.
Normally manned by 3,500 troops, the bases were used as staging areas for the abortive 1956 Anglo-French Suez Canal expedition and played major roles during the 1991 Operation Desert Storm to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
The bases cover 99 square miles and include an air base at Akrotiri, the adjacent command post at Episkopi in the south and a large army installation at Dhekelia on the eastern coast.
The Cypriot authorities are particularly concerned about the proximity of the Akrotiri air base to the port city of Limassol, which is a major tourist resort.
Nicos Rolandis, Cypriot tourism minister, said any involvement of the bases in military activity in the Middle East would be "very, very negative, coming in the aftermath of Afghanistan, adding to the problems we have faced in the past six months and worsening recession." Tourism is the main source of income for Cyprus.
Another disturbing factor for the Cypriot government is the apparent lack of specific information from British military authorities. "We simply have no idea as to what they might do with these bases," one official said.
Government spokesman Michalis Papapetrou issued a cautious statement expressing concern about "activities that might endanger Cyprus." He added: "We were not consulted either before or after the gulf war."
Sources at the Sovereign Base Areas said that instead of being used as transit points or for logistics purposes, the bases would be reconfigured to "prepare troops for actual operations."


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