Militaries to curb ‘dogfights’

ANKARA – NATO partners Turkey and Greece are taking steps to avoid confrontations in the Aegean Sea, including mock aerial «dogfights,» that in more troubled times led them to the brink of war, according to Turkey’s top general. General Yasar Buyukanit said the two sides, whose relations have warmed over six years but are still taxed by disputes over Cyprus and the Aegean, had agreed their warplanes would not fly over the Aegean Sea during public holidays and national days. He said the countries’ military chiefs were also considering flying their jets unarmed over certain parts of the Aegean Sea and devising rules to maintain a distance and avoid collisions. Buyukanit met Greek chief of armed forces Admiral Panayiotis Chinofotis in Athens in a four-day visit last week. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul will also visit Athens early next month. Turkey needs its erstwhile foe’s support in negotiations to join the European Union. A brush between fighter planes led to a crash last May in which one Greek pilot died. But swift communications between the foreign ministries and militaries of the two countries ensured the incident did not escalate into a major row. The two countries came to the brink of war over the small uninhabited Aegean island of Kardak, Imia in Greek, in 1996. The United States intervened to persuade both sides to withdraw their troops and flags. «What is important is to eliminate an environment in the Aegean which would create a crisis,» Buyukanit told reporters on Thursday night. «What we (the Greek and Turkish armies) can do is to create an environment of confidence.» Fighter planes routinely shadow each other, sometimes closely, over the Aegean Sea, and fishing vessels frequently become embroiled in disputes because the two countries disagree over their maritime borders. Greece says its waters extend 10 miles from land, while Turkey only recognizes 6 miles of territorial water. «We have agreed to establish a mechanism which will include sea, land and air forces,» Buyukanit said. (Reuters)

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