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Article posted Feb 06 2006, 2:22 PM Category: History Source: BBC Print

UK's murky role in Cyprus crisis

Evidence has emerged that British undercover forces were involved in fomenting the conflict between Greek and Turkish Cypriots ten years before the 1974 partition of Cyprus.

The new evidence found by BBC Radio 4's programme Document centres on the mystery of Ted Macey, a British army major who was abducted, presumed killed by Greek Cypriot paramilitaries.

I had no strong expectation that we would find the Turkish Cypriot village. We had a 40-year-old British army map, bearing only the old Greek names. Our guide, Martin Packard, had not been here for decades. The countryside was deserted, no one spoke English, and night had fallen.

In 1964, Martin was a naval intelligence officer, sent to Cyprus to do an extraordinary job. Fighting had broken out in the capital, Nicosia, between Greeks and Turks.

Unrest spread, and the British troops in Cyprus stepped in to keep the peace. But the British General, Peter Young, thought that peace meant more than keeping the two sides apart. He believed the communities could live side by side, sometimes in mixed villages, as they had for centuries.

But that meant small disputes had to be prevented from turning into big ones. Gen Young appointed Martin, a fluent Greek speaker, as a roving trouble-shooter and negotiator. With two officers from the mainland Greek and Turkish armies, he roamed the north of Cyprus by helicopter, settling disputes.


We eventually found the village, and even an interpreter. Here, in Easter 1964, Martin had resolved a conflict over a flock of sheep, stolen from the Turkish villages by their Greek Cypriots neighbours. Martin tracked down the flock in a Greek village.

But none of the Turkish Cypriots were prepared to come with him to get them. So he went himself. He took the youngest lamb and flung it across his shoulder. The mother followed, and so did the rest of the flock.

"I walked a very long way, I was very tired, leading this flock of sheep," he said. "We arrived at the village and all of the villagers rushed out as if I were Moses coming back with some great message."

The old men of the village remembered the incident, but were not conspicuously grateful. It was a good thing Martin had got their sheep back, they said, grudgingly, because otherwise they were planning to steal a Greek flock in retaliation.

Martin believes such small episodes were the key to preventing the island drifting towards ethnic separation. But, he says, this was not what the Americans and British had in mind.

He recalls being asked to take a visiting US politician, acting secretary of state George Ball, around the island. Arriving back in Nicosia, says Martin, "Ball patted me on the back, as though I were sadly deluded and he said: That was a fantastic show son, but you've got it all wrong, hasn't anyone told you that our plan here is for partition?"

Undaunted, Martin pursued plans to move Turkish Cypriots back to the villages they had fled. But just as the first resettlement was about to take place, British General Michael Carver had him arrested and flown off the island - in an unmarked CIA plane.

The ostensible reason was that Cyprus had become too dangerous for Martin to operate in; the evidence given was that a British liaison officer, Major Ted Macey, had been abducted and presumed murdered just a few days before.

All the evidence points to the murder having been carried out by Greek Cypriot extremists.

In the Public Record Office in London, I found files showing that British military commanders in Cyprus had received "very reliable information" that Major Macey's abduction was planned "by Greek security forces with approval of high government circles and connivance of the police to extract information about Turkish invasion plans".

The Greek Cypriots were convinced that Major Macey was aiding the Turks.

Listening bases

Could it be true? I spoke to a former Para who accompanied Major Macey on expeditions to Turkish Cypriot villages. There, says the Para, he demonstrated the use of British ammunition and sub-machine guns to the Turkish Cypriot irregular forces.

I also tracked down one of Major Macey's former drivers, who showed me a curious note, in the major's handwriting. It is a list of arms and explosives being stored in civilian premises in Nicosia: arms, says the driver, which Major Macey had supplied, under British orders, to the Turkish fighters.

So did the peacekeeping forces, and the big powers, really want Cyprus to remain an independent, unitary state? Or was it more important to head off the threat of a "Mediterranean Cuba" by keeping the island within Turkey's - and hence Nato's - sphere of influence?

Britain had, and has, electronic listening bases on the island - important parts of the Nato intelligence effort.

Nicos Koshis, a former justice minister, thinks that it was those bases that determined the fate of the island: "It is my feeling they wanted to have fighting between the two sides. They didn't want us to get together. If the communities come together maybe in the future we say no bases in Cyprus."

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