Soldiers arrested after Ayia Napa brawl

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The Independent Online

Nine British soldiers have been arrested and two others are seriously ill in hospital after a bar-room brawl in the Cypriot holiday resort of Ayia Napa.

Two locals were also said to have been hurt after up to 20 soldiers from the 2nd battalion, The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers burst into the Bedrock Inn bar in the early hours of Saturday morning and began throwing bottles and smashing tables and chairs.

The incident blights almost a decade of peaceful relations with the Cypriots and comes at a sensitive time as the southern side of the island approaches presidential elections.

The Cypriot authorities have charged one of the arrested soldiers with assault occasioning grievous bodily harm, which carries a maximum jail term of seven years. Two others face lesser assault charges and six a variety of public order offences.

One soldier had to have 22 stitches to a head wound while another was hospitalised with a suspected fractured skull.

It is understood officers on the island were said to be questioning why no action appeared to have been taken against locals involved in the fight.

The fusiliers, who are due to leave the island next month, were out celebrating "millionaire's weekend" – so called because it was their last pay packet before their tour of duty ends. An earlier incident is understood to have led the group to chase someone into the bar – which is in an area out of bounds to soldiers.

Bedrock Inn owner Kyriacos Hadjiyiannis told a local newspaper the soldiers had caused £3,700 of damage and that one of his friends had needed 22 stitches to a face wound.

The nine soldiers have now been confined to barracks at Dhekelia, where the Royal Military Police and base constabulary are assisting the local force with the investigation.

"The army cannot condone any form of violence or destruction to Cypriot property. If found guilty in a court of law there will be other consequential penalties from the military," said British Forces Cyprus spokesman Dennis Barnes, adding that this was an isolated incident.

Soldiers from 2RRF have served in Iraq and Afghanistan almost continuously during 2006 and 2007. "At one time they had a company in Iraq and another company in Afghanistan. They are due to go home in a month's time after two years here," said Mr Barnes.

During the 1990s, relations with the Greek Cypriots were strained after a rash of violent and drunken behaviour. In 1994 three soldiers were jailed for the rape and murder of a Danish tour guide.

However, the military has maintained a near unblemished record for almost a decade. Two Royal Marines were fined for assaulting a taxi driver last year but there have been no incidents on the southern side of the island for approximately nine years.

With local presidential elections due in a fortnight's time, the British military presence is an emotive topic.

"This won't help," admitted Mr Barnes, adding: "Generally speaking we add a lot to the economy and we are pretty well liked. It is just unfortunate."