NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Villagers in Cyprus on Thursday confronted British soldiers based on the east Mediterranean island over the cutting down of trees at a firing range, complaining that they were encroaching on the community's prized wooded area.
British bases spokesman Kristian Gray said the standoff, which saw local residents from a village inside a British base encircling about 200 soldiers and blocking their trucks from leaving the area for several hours, ended peacefully.
Gray said the overnight military operation was meant to improve visibility and safety inside the firing range, situated along the island's southeastern coastline.
A written statement issued by the British Bases said villagers "acted in an unacceptable manner."
Xylophagou community leader Tasos Anglogallos said hundreds of villagers converged on the site before dawn after they discovered what was happening. Anglogallos said villagers were angry that soldiers had cleared more than an acre of eucalyptus and other vegetation near the community's only and much loved forested area.
"It's our only green space and the community values it greatly," Anglogallos told the AP.
British authorities said the trees were removed partly to prevent the illegal hunting of migrating birds. Activists say that locals use acacia trees to trap songbirds that are served at restaurants as a delicacy.
According to activists, hundreds of thousands of the birds are trapped inside one of two military bases that Britain retained after Cyprus gained independence from British colonial rule in 1960.