Turkey talks soft, new Imia violation

Just one day after Ankara played down a string of recent violations, by the Turkish military, of Greek airspace and territorial waters as «normal training activities,» a Turkish patrol boat yesterday came within a few hundred meters of a tiny islet over which the two countries nearly went to war in 1996. Military sources said the coast guard vessel stopped 300 meters off the Greek islet of Imia in the Dodecanese yesterday morning, and stayed there for 30 minutes. It was the fourth reported incident of the sort since Tuesday. Several times last week, Turkish jet fighters entered Greek airspace in the Aegean only to be chased off by Greek planes – often after simulated dogfights. In a particularly brash display on Friday, two Turkish F-16 fighters flew very low just 200 meters from two Greek naval vessels engaged in firing practice at a designated firing range off Andros. This happened just one day after Athens had made a formal complaint to Ankara regarding the previous violations. In an announcement on Saturday, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry rejected Greece’s protests. «We find it unfair that information on normal activities conforming to international law are presented as a source of tensions in the Aegean Sea,» the statement said, describing Turkish military activity in the area as routine training operations. «Turkey attributes great importance to its relations with Greece.» In an interview published in yesterday’s Vima newspaper, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he wanted to solve disputes over the Aegean «as soon as possible.» Athens has repeatedly warned Ankara that aggressive behavior in the Aegean will not help Turkey in its bid to join the European Union – which Greece has openly backed. A poll in yesterday’s Paron newspaper indicated that three in four Greeks want Athens to veto Turkey’s EU access unless Turkey ends its violations in the Aegean.