IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Greece fears tensions on the rise with Turkey

/ Source: The Associated Press

Greece's foreign minister said Monday that Athens was concerned about increasing tension in its relations with neighboring Turkey over military flights in the Aegean Sea.

NATO allies Greece and Turkey have been at odds for years over airspace boundaries and flight procedures in the Aegean Sea that forms the border between them, and mock dogfights between fighter jets from each side are common.

But Dora Bakoyannis told The Associated Press that Turkish military jets were flying over inhabited Greek islands.

"There is an increase in tension in the Aegean, which is evaluated very seriously by the Greek side," Bakoyannis said. "We have overflights — not the usual overflights we had in the past, but overflights over inhabited islands — which worries us greatly."

Meeting this weekend
The minister said she intended to raise the issue with her Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, during a meeting this weekend on the Greek island of Corfu, where foreign ministers from the 56-member Organization for Security and Cooperation Europe are meeting.

Earlier this year, Bakoyannis had warned that Greek-Turkish relations had effectively ground to a standstill after a decade of steady improvement.

The two countries came to the brink of war three times between 1974 and 1996 over the Aegean and the war-divided island country of Cyprus.

Greek officials have said that there are about 1,500 violations by Turkish warplanes each year, but that Turkish pilots have adopted more aggressive patrolling tactics such as low-altitude flights over tiny populated islands.

Turkey maintains it does not carry out any air space violations since it defines the area within Greece's control differently from Greek authorities.

In recent years, there was some thaw in the hostile relations between the two countries. In 2002, Greek and Turkish diplomats launched exploratory talks on their disputes. Business deals have steadily increased and include a pipeline link that will be used to carry natural gas from the Caspian Sea to western Europe.

But the Aegean has remained a source of tension.

Immigration another issue
Another issue has been illegal immigration.

Tens of thousands of illegal immigrants sneak into Greece each year, many heading to Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast. Greece has signed an agreement with Turkey under which it can send back the illegal migrants who enter from Turkey, but says the agreement is often not enforced.

In 2008, Greek authorities arrested more than 146,000 illegal immigrants, a 30 percent increase from the previous year and a 54 percent jump from 2006, according to government figures.

"We must certainly cooperate (with Turkey)," Bakoyannis said. "It must be clear to Turkey that it cannot turn a blind eye to people smuggling, and that to the contrary it is to everyone's benefit, Turkey's included, for there to be a crackdown on this organized crime."

The minister said a unified European Union response was also needed, as most illegal immigrants who come to Greece aim to move on to other EU countries.

Turkey also needed help in dealing with the problem it has itself with illegal immigration, Bakoyannis said.

"The response to illegal immigration is not rivalry, it is cooperation. Because the problem touches us all."