Aegean heat grows, Athens calm

Athens made a point of staying calm yesterday as Turkey continued to ignore Greek protests by violating Greece’s air space and territorial waters with military aircraft and a coast guard patrol boat. In a cheeky move calculated to raise hackles in Athens, two Turkish F-16 fighters buzzed a pair of Greek naval ships conducting an exercise in international waters off the island of Andros, flying at a height of 200 feet some 200 meters from the vessels. The ships had been engaged in target practice. «Within an environment of cooperation, in which the development of very good relations is being advanced, where efforts are being made to ensure stability… and proper neighborly coexistence in our area, such behavior does not contribute to these ends,» Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos commented. «Particularly in view of the effort under way for Turkey to join the European Union, we believe such behavior is to be rejected.» Foreign Ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos said Greece has complained about Turkey’s air space and territorial waters violations to NATO and the European Union presidency. According to a Defense Ministry statement yesterday, apart from the incident off Andros – which took place within a designated firing range – a total of 12 Turkish F-16 fighters violated Greek air space in the northern and central Aegean 14 times. In all cases, including the Andros incident, the Turks were chased off by Greek fighters, in certain cases following simulated dogfights. This followed a spate of similar incidents in recent days. The ministry stressed that air defense systems had locked all the Turkish intruders in their sights. Meanwhile, ministry sources said a Turkish coast guard patrol boat yesterday entered Greek waters off the uninhabited islet of Imia in the Dodecanese, over which Greece and Turkey came very close to war in January 1996. Turkey’s coast guard engaged in similar actions on Thursday and Tuesday.