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Armed Forces: Cyprus Accommodation

Volume 690: debated on Monday 19 March 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their assessment of the state of the housing of the United Kingdom’s military component of the United Nations force in Nicosia, Cyprus; and who is responsible for its maintenance.

My Lords, since this Question was tabled there has been a house fire at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, which tragically resulted in the death of three people. A thorough investigation has commenced, and our thoughts are with the families and friends of the deceased at this very difficult time.

British military personnel serving with the United Nations force in Cyprus are accommodated at the Ledra Palace Hotel. The accommodation there is unsatisfactory, but responsibility for its maintenance lies with the Republic of Cyprus Government. We continue to make representations to them about its condition.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and endorse the sentiments he expressed at the beginning. He recently replied to the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, that a Defence Minister had visited last September and that every effort was being made through representations to improve living conditions. Did the Minister actually see, in the former five-star Ledra Palace Hotel, what that noble Lord saw recently: electrical points hanging out of the walls in uninhabitable rooms, accounts of sewage coming back from the toilets and a total absence of air conditioning in the bedrooms? What specific action did he insist on, and on what timescale? What has been done since last September?

When these matters were put to the president of Cyprus, he said that Cyprus paid its contributions to the United Nations. Thousands of British tourists visit Cyprus; are these shameful conditions the best that we can do for our troops?

My Lords, I agree with my noble and learned friend that it is totally unsatisfactory. It really is not good enough. Since my right honourable friend the Minister for the Armed Forces visited those facilities very strong representations have been made to the Government of the Republic of Cyprus and to the United Nations. We expect to see improvements made quickly to the accommodation in which our troops are suffering.

My Lords, I can confirm from my own observations that everything that my noble and learned friend Lord Morris has said is absolutely correct. How long have representations been made without anything being done about them? Is there no adequate inspection or monitoring system, and for how long will we allow this to continue?

My Lords, I understand that this situation has existed for several years. It is not good enough and, as I have said, representations have been significantly increased following the visit by my right honourable friend last September. We expect to see improvements made.

My Lords, what implications might the recent steps by both Turkish and Greek Cypriots to free up access to Ledra Street and the two halves of the city of Nicosia have for the British UN troops manning that part of the green line? Is it not time to look seriously at converting UNFICIP into an observer force only? That would, of course, have implications for the troops’ accommodation that is so clearly unsatisfactory.

My Lords, I am not aware of the specific changes that the noble Lord mentions. I will write to him in response to his question. In addition to the representations, we are looking at the actions that we could take ourselves. However, we feel that this is the responsibility of the Republic of Cyprus Government, and we expect them to rectify it. We are looking at other options such as building our own accommodation but, given the time that that would take, the answer is to address the conditions in the Ledra Palace Hotel.

My Lords, the British Government have a very large and underutilised sovereign base not far from Nicosia. I assume that there is a good deal of surplus accommodation there. Could that not be part of the solution to this problem?

No, my Lords. My understanding is that moving the personnel to another base would not provide a solution.

My Lords, providing a solution ourselves in the form of bricks and mortar would, presumably, be exactly what the Government of Cyprus want. Is there no other recourse that we can take besides making representations, which clearly do not work?

My Lords, the noble Lord may be correct about the purpose behind the lack of progress from the Republic of Cyprus Government. However, we feel that the most productive way to get this issue resolved is to make representations to the United Nations and to the Government.

My Lords, is not the real answer that the British Government should be more robust in making representations to both communities on the island of Cyprus, and to the administrations in both parts of that country, to come to an honourable and just solution so that the country can again be reunited?

Absolutely, my Lords. I agree totally with my noble friend. However, while that is happening we must urgently address our troops’ accommodation.

My Lords, what has been the response to the representations made since the Minister’s right honourable friend’s visit last September? It is now March.

My Lords, given that the situation has not improved, it is clear that the results have not been satisfactory. What we really need is action to improve the accommodation in the Ledra Palace Hotel. That is what will address the situation.