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30 July, 1999
The government said yesterday that its position on the issue of the Moslem minority of Thrace was "clear, known and unchanged", namely, that such a minority existed and was only a religious one.
Government spokesman Dimitris Reppas made the statement when asked by reporters to comment on remarks by Foreign Minister George Papandreou in an interview with an Athens-based monthly magazine and speaking yesterday on a local radio station.
In the published interview, Mr. Papandreou was quoted as saying that "nobody doubts that there are a lot of Moslems of Turkish origin" in western Thrace, adding however, that "at times the minority issue is raised together with territorial claims. If ex isting borders are not questioned, I don't really care if somebody calls himself a Moslem, Turk, Bulgarian or Pomack".
"The Balkans will find their peace if we guarantee borders and at the same time the rights of minorities," he said.
Mr. Reppas stressed that as far as Greece was concerned there could be no question of the minority in Thrace being designated in any way other than 'Moslem'.
The issue came to the forefront last week when Thrace's three Moslem MPs and 13 non-governmental organisations called for recognition of so-called "Turkish" and "Macedonian" minorities in Greece.
Over the weekend, National Defence Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos rejected the call outright, telling reporters that "such minorities do not exist, however much some may want to create them."
"Under the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), there is only a Moslem minority in our country, which lives in the best conditions," he added.
Commenting on Mr. Papandreou's statements, Mr. Reppas said he had simply stated what was self-evident, namely, that the status of the minority in Thrace is governed by the Treaty of Lausanne, "which refers to the existence of a Moslem minority and speci fies its three components - Pomacks, gypsies and those of Turkish origin".
Mr. Reppas said the Treaty of Lausanne, which determines the status of the Moslem minority, prevails in this respect over the conventions of Copenhagen and Paris, which pertain to citizens' rights, and to which Greece is a signatory.
Noting that the government agreed with Mr. Papandreou's statements, Mr. Reppas said the foreign minister had raised the major issue of the inviolability of borders "and did so in a responsible manner".
Mr. Reppas noted that the Greek minister had said in the interview that the term "Turkish minority" could be used in efforts aimed at changing borders and that this could create many problems.
Regarding the way in which the minority or certain members of the Moslem minority might refer to themselves, Mr. Reppas said Greece, during the New Democracy government in 1990-93, had signed the relevant international conventions "and at all events, we are not afraid of how someone may choose to call himself".
He added that policy on such issues had to take into account all the relevant international factors.
Replying to other questions, Mr. Reppas underlined that there had been no change in the government's stance on the issue, nor could this be construed from Mr. Papandreou's statements.
Mr. Reppas said while the rights of Greek citizens were respected, "any attempt to undermine national sovereignty or obstruct the exercise of (Greece's) sovereign rights will not be tolerated".
Source: Athens News Agency