NEWS

Gul plays down air violations

Greece yesterday handed an official protest to Turkey over increasing violations of Greek air space, which included the harassing of two Greek fighter-bombers on a bombing run during a scheduled exercise in the Aegean. The note was submitted to the Foreign Ministry in Ankara. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, in Brussels, however, sought to play down the dispute with Athens, saying relations between the two countries were good and improving continually. «From time to time we have that type of incident,» Gul said of the air space violations. «By 2004, the Aegean question should be solved. There is serious work between Turkey and Greece on these matters,» Gul said. The EU said at its Helsinki Summit in December 1999 that if no solution were reached by 2004, the issue should be taken to the International Court of Justice at The Hague. On Thursday, Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou had complained to Gul about the air space violations and had also informed the EU’s commissioner for enlargement, Guenter Verheugen, of Turkey’s increasing aggressiveness in the Aegean. Athens has also notified NATO and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Gul had told Papandreou he was unaware of the incidents and would look into them. In a speech in Brussels on Thursday night, Gul said his country «has the desire and will to achieve exemplary relations» between Greece and Turkey. He added that Ankara believed Athens felt the same way. Regarding Cyprus, he confirmed the Turkish government’s toeing of Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash’s line, saying Ankara believed that a solution to the island’s problem should recognize the «reality» of «two people and two equal administrations» on the island. Denktash says this to imply recognition of a separate Turkish-Cypriot state but Gul did not mention a «state.» The UN plan proposed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan proposes a loose federation on Cyprus but not two states. The Foreign Ministry in Athens angrily rejected Turkish news reports that Gul and Papandreou had discussed allowing trade in goods from the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus.