East Anglian soldiers patrol Cyprus buffer zone

Territorial soldiers from East Anglia are at the forefront of Britain's second biggest army operation overseas.

Members of the 3rd battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment are patrolling the UN buffer zone in Cyprus as part of a 300 strong force of British military personnel.

The bulk of the British forces for Operation Tosca is made up of the battalion, known as the Steelbacks, which is operating under the auspices of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus(UNFICYP) on a six month tour.

Outside of Afghanistan it is the largest overseas British army operation.

The main role of the battalion, which has its headquarters in Bury St Edmunds, and other UNFICYP troops is to patrol a UN buffer zone between Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots to make sure no hostile action takes place between both sides who bitterly oppose each other.

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Each year there are about 1,000 incidents UNFICYP responds to or deals with, ranging from name-calling to unauthorised use of firearms.

The buffer zone was set up when Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 after a military coup on the island, which was backed by the Greek government.

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Territorials from the Steelbacks patrol a 30km stretch of the buffer zone which runs through the centre of the city of Nicosia.

In some of the zone time has stood in shops, businesses and homes which were hurriedly evacuated during the 1974 invasion while other parts are all hustle and bustle as people enter the zone to farm land, carry out business or work there.

As well as carrying out patrols and making sure there are no flash points between the two divided communities members of the 3rd battalion Royal Anglian Regiment also have to make sure both Greek and Turkish Cypriots do not feel slighted by keeping impartial during discussions and any confrontations or violations of the zone.

The commanding officer of the 3rd battalion Royal Anglian Regiment group in Cyprus Lt Col Richard Lyne said taking part in UNFICYP was giving his soldiers invaluable front line experience.

He said: 'In any military activity you need people with a spectrum of experience, from combat operations to peacekeeping roles.

'At the end of combat operations in Afghanistan, who knows what the next challenge will be? It may well be a peacekeeping operation.

'Today you need soldiers with that delicate balance of mind sets - who can wade in and get things sorted, but who are also able to step back and think about things.

'The UNFICYP experience certainly exposes you to an unique challenge in that respect.'

In total there are about 860 troops in UNFICYP, including personnel from Argentina, Slovakia and Hungary.

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