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UK's Cyprus military bases 'more important than ever'

Britain's two military bases on the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus are "more important than ever" in light of the turmoil gripping nearby Syria, Sir Michael Fallon said.

In the first-ever official visit to the island by a British defence secretary, Sir Michael said British Tornado and Typhoon warplanes stationed at RAF Akrotiri have made 1,200 strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria in the last two years.

Sir Michael said coalition forces will this year aim to strike the "decisive blow" against IS after pushing back its fighters in 2016, according to Cyprus's defence ministry.

He said IS now holds less than 10% of territory in Iraq and that two million people have been liberated from IS rule.

Sir Michael also said the largely Kurdish Syrian Defence Forces are opening a second front against the IS stronghold in Raqqa, Syria, and hailed the "larger role" Cyprus is playing in safeguarding security in the region.

Britain has retained two bases on Cyprus after the island gained independence from colonial rule in 1960.

"We could have no better partner than our great friend Cyprus," Sir Michael said.

He told the Associated Press after a meeting with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades that Britain is looking to extend an existing defence co-operation programme with Cyprus to include maritime and aviation security.

Sir Michael repeated Britain's offer to cede nearly half of the 98 square miles (254 sq km) of bases territory if current talks aimed at reunifying the ethnically divided island are successful.

Cypriot government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said Britain recognises Cyprus's upgraded role in bolstering regional security which must be further strengthened as part of an aimed-for reunification deal.

AP

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