Britain launches review of Cyprus military bases

U.K. bases in Cyprus

Britain will review its military bases in Cyprus as it seeks to extract maximum value from a shrinking defence budget, Defence Secretary Liam Fox said in a statement to parliament on Tuesday.

Britain has two extensive sovereign base areas on the Mediterranean island, occupying 98 sq miles (254 sq km) or about 3 percent of its territory, which it retained when Cyprus won independence in 1960.

About 2,880 military personnel and 1,610 civilians work at the bases, which support Britain’s troops in Afghanistan and provide a platform for other operations in an unstable region.

Cyprus opposes use of the bases to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, and Britain says it is not using them for that purpose.

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said the review would cover “what we have, how we use it, if we can use it better”, but did not say whether a base could be closed.

The year-old government has already carried out a strategic defence review, which has led to sharp cuts in military personnel and equipment as the government seeks an 8 percent real-terms cut in defence spending over four years.

In November 2009, the United Nations said Britain had offered to hand over almost half of its sovereign territory in Cyprus to facilitate a peace deal between the island’s Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. The long-running conflict is an obstacle to Turkey’s membership talks with the EU.