Calm sought in Aegean

Greece urged Turkey yesterday to stop unannounced military flights over the Aegean as hopes of finding a Greek pilot alive faded after his plane collided with a Turkish jet on Tuesday. Speaking from Paris, where he had been presiding over a meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis attempted a diplomatic balancing act as he sought to warn Turkey about its behavior over the Aegean while trying to avoid giving the impression that Athens was adopting a more aggressive attitude. «Yesterday’s incident should make our neighbor think seriously about changing its stance and abandoning once and for all practices and behaviors that are not consistent with good-neighborly relations and, of course, are evaluated and taken into account in its EU course,» he said. However, the premier’s diplomatic language belied the fact that the two countries have conflicting views on how the accident, which appears to have killed Greek Air Force Captain Costas Iliakis, happened. The Turkish Air Force said that the Turkish F-16 had been on a routine flight in international air space when it was «buzzed» by the Greek jet. According to the statement, the Greek jet slammed into the Turkish plane from behind and underneath. This view contradicts the one put across by Athens – that the two planes were involved in a mock dogfight when the Turkish pilot, who managed to escape safely, made a sudden maneuver, clipping the Greek jet’s wing. Government sources insisted that the Turkish plane was in the Athens Flight Information Region (FIR) without having submitted flight plans. Sources added that the Turkish plane had been flying at 27,000 feet, which is considered dangerous for civil aviation traffic in the area. The apparent resolve on both sides, however, to approach the incident calmly could prove a positive development for Greek-Turkish relations. «In this sad event there is a ray of optimism about how we handle crises,» said Deputy Foreign Minister Evripidis Stylianidis. «The immediate communication between the foreign ministers and militaries resulted in deflating the climate immediately and avoiding further tension in bilateral ties.»