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An isolated Turkey sends fighters over Greek air space

SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Monday, June 9, 2003

ATHENS Turkey has sent armed fighter-jets to confront Greek combat aircraft in the Aegean Sea.

Greek officials said Turkey's air force has sent armed F-4 Phantom fighter-jets to enter Greek air space in the Aegean Sea. They said Turkish aircraft have committed a record number of violations of Greek air space over the last two weeks.

Western diplomatic sources said the Greek-Turkish tension comes amid Ankara's increasing isolation. The sources point to U.S. anger over Turkey's refusal to allow American combat troops to form a second front during the war in Iraq.

In addition, Turkey has been unable to obtain European Union approval of a timetable for membership, Middle East Newsline reported. The EU has demanded that Ankara first engage in a series of reforms before it is considered for membership.


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Greek Defense Ministry sources said 36 Turkish fighter-jets committed up to 25 violations of Greek airspace in the northern and central Aegean over the last few days. The sources said Hellenic Air Force sent aircraft to scramble and intercept the Turkish planes.

The sources reported seven episodes of engagements by Greek and Turkish aircraft. They said Greek pilots reported that nine of the Turkish aircraft were armed with missiles. No fire was reported.

Greece and Turkey agreed to a series of confidence-building measures at the end of May following increased tension between the two countries over the resurgence of mutual allegations of mock dogfights over the Aegean.

The Turkish violations were reported after Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou and his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, signed an agreement to institute confidence-building measures. The measures include mutual visits by military officers and an information-sharing system between military hospitals.

"These measures are particularly important because they are not directly military, but they do involve the militaries of our two countries," Papandreou told reporters.

Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou has warned that the engagements between Greek and Turkish warplanes could lead to an accident. Papantoniou has appealed to the European Union and the United States to stop what he termed Turkish violations of Greek air space.

The defense minister said the tensions with Turkey have halted plans to further cut Greece's defense budget. Papantoniou said defense spending in Greece has dropped from five percent to 3.5 percent of the gross domestic product.

Turkey has not recognized Greece's claim to air space and territorial waters in some parts of the Aegean. Ankara has refused to provide advance notification of Turkish air exercises in the Aegean.

Greece claims that its national air space in the Aegean extends 16 kilometers. Turkey recognizes only six.

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