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Media Watch 2007

27 April 2007
Source: Cyprus Weekly
Author:
Comment: The following article appeared in the Cyprus Weekly of Nicosia on 27 April 2007.
Hoon: UK willing to discuss bases but no pull out
BRITISH Minister for Europe Geoff Hoon said this week that London is willing to discuss the extent and range of its sovereign bases on Cyprus but implied that troop withdrawal is a non-starter.

"BRITISH Minister for Europe Geoff Hoon said this week that London is willing to discuss the extent and range of its sovereign bases on Cyprus but implied that troop withdrawal is a non-starter.

"The position of the British bases is clear as far as the United Kingdom is concerned, it's clear legally," said Hoon after meeting Foreign Minister George Lillikas.

Reporters asked Hoon on Wednesday whether there would come a time when Britain withdrew its military presence.

"Those bases, inevitably, are a product of particular circumstances in history, and the range and extent of those bases are something we are always willing to discuss with friends," he replied.
"Our legal position is clear and I can't see in the short term, at any rate, that that is going to change."

Hoon was on the island as part of a "fence-mending" initiative that began two years ago to improve ties after relations between the fellow EU members reached a low ebb.

The brief visit came days after parliament adopted a resolution urging the government to make representations to Britain over London's refusal to pay for keeping its two sovereign military bases on the island.

Whether Britain is obliged to pay and how much Cyprus might be owed have been an issue ever since the former British colony gained independence in 1960.

Although the government said it would consider the resolution, it did not raise the issue officially during the talks with Hoon, British diplomats said.

Hoon was Defence Secretary when Britain offered to hand over almost 50% of the sovereign base areas as part of a UN peace plan that was rejected by Greek Cypriots in 2004.

The offer was rescinded when the plan failed.

"Britain would look favourably on trying to do so again if the sides come close to a comprehensive UN settlement," said an official British source.

The bases came into question earlier this month when Cypriot MEP Marios Matsakis was arrested at RAF Akrotiri during an official visit by a European parliament delegation.

Matsakis was released from British custody on April 14 after going on a two-day hunger strike.

Cyprus protested to Britain over his arrest and detention, and the government was unhappy that the European Commission did not take a tougher stand over the incident.

Britain's military bases cover 250 sq kms, with some 10,000 military personnel and their families stationed there."