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16 January, 1998
The Greek government yesterday expressed disagreement over statements by new US ambassador in Athens Nicholas Burns concerning the extent of Greece's airspace limits.
Replying to reporters' questions, government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said Athens would not allow any questioning of its policy, "according to which Greek airspace has extended to 10 nautical miles for about the past 60 years and no one has disputed this for very many years".
While noting that Mr. Burns had retracted some of his initial statements on the subject, Mr. Reppas said Athens did not agree with the position of the US ambassador, "since it does not conform with the principles of international law adhered to for decades in the region". Mr. Burns last Friday reiterated the US position that the limits of each country's airspace should correspond to those of its territorial waters, which would mean that Washington recognizes a six-nautical-mile limit for Greek airs pace.
Asked whether there was a problem with Mr. Burns, Mr. Reppas replied that the government had not been occupied with any issue concerning the ambassador.
The spokesman was also asked whether Washington's services were welcome with regard to the Cyprus problem and Greek-Turkish relations.
With respect to Cyprus, he replied that any initiatives will be judged by whether they are within the framework of UN resolutions and the 1977 summit meetings in Cyprus (between the late President Makarios and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash).
On the issue of Greek-Turkish relations, Mr. Reppas said no US initiative was currently in progress.
Turkish violations continue unabated :
Meanwhile, the government emphasized that Turkish warplanes again violated Greek airspace yesterday, this time between the Aegean islands of Lesvos and Hios. Mr. Reppas said the Turkish warplanes were on all occasions recognized and intercepted by Hellenic Air Force fighters.
Commenting on the latest violations, Mr. Reppas said Turkey was persisting in its "meaningless policy which will be confronted in practice".
He added that Greece's diplomatic and other actions in response to the Turkish violations were bearing fruit and enhancing the country's international position.
According to press sources, since 11:30 a.m. yesterday, a total of 32 Turkish warplanes - 16 F-16s, 12 F-4s and four RF-4s (photo reconnaisance) - had without warning entered the Athens Flight Information Region (FIR) without previously submitting flight plans. The FIR infringements and airspace violations, sources said, took place between Lesvos and Hios, and Lesvos and Limnos.
Commenting on the violations, National Defense Deputy Minister Dimitris Apostolakis said Ankara should realize that it was playing a dangerous game given that "our country has the capability and determination to respond to such provocation".
On his part, Alternate Foreign Minister George Papandreou said that "while we focus on issues that were finalized decades ago, such as the width of Greek national airspace, we do not see the issue at hand, which are the Turkish provocations."
Source: Athens News Agency