Fresh tension arises in the Aegean

Tensions in the Aegean are on the rise again after Turkey suggested that Greek helicopters were violating the neighboring country’s air space while flying over the small Dodecanese island of Farmakonisi. The move has prompted President Karolos Papoulias to call Turkey a «fractious neighbor» and to make Agathonisi, another small Dodecanese island, one of his stops for the Epiphany celebrations on January 6. The alarm was raised in Greece when, on New Year’s Eve, Turkish air defense control communicated with Greek helicopters via the wireless and asked them to leave the area because they were violating Turkey’s national air space. Greece and Turkey have a longstanding territorial dispute over the Aegean. Turkey insists Greek air space extends only 10 kilometers offshore, not 16 kilometers as Greece maintains. The demand from the Turkish side on December 31 led to an immediate visit by General Dimitris Grapsas, the chief of National Defense General Staff, and army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Dimitris Voulgaris to the island, as well as to the nearby islet of Kalolymnos. The Greek Embassy in Ankara also filed two official protests with the Turkish Foreign Ministry. Diplomatic sources in Athens said the Turkish action is being treated as a significant escalation of provocative behavior by Greece’s neighbor, which the European Union and NATO have also been informed about. When addressing military officers on New Year’s Day, President Papoulias told them, «We have to be ready to face any threat.» Greece also took over on January 1 the one-year presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, where its problems with Turkey will have to be put to one side. «Greece is called upon to assume the OSCE presidency at this international juncture, influenced by the global financial crisis, recent developments in the Caucuses and the discussion on the European security structure,» the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis is due to present Greece’s priorities at OSCE headquarters in Vienna on January 15.

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