Turkey and Greece seek ways to relegate Aegean disputes

Mar 12, 2002 01:00 AM

Long-time rivals Greece and Turkey discussed ways to try to consign their decades-old disputes over the Aegean Sea to history. The neighbouring countries have enjoyed warmer ties in recent years, cooperating to lure tourists and fight organized crime. But the thaw has yet to reach the most sensitive area: The Aegean disputes that have repeatedly brought these two NATO allies close to war.
Greek and Turkish diplomats met in Ankara to sound out whether to broach these disputes in formal talks and to refer some of the arguments to an international court. After years of disagreement, even talking about talks on these issues was seen as a step forward. Anastasis Skopelitis, head of the Greek Foreign Ministry's political section, and Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Ugur Ziyal led the delegations, which could meet again in Athens if the discussions are deemed successful.

Greece insists that the only issue it is ready to negotiate is defining the location of the continental shelf, which affects mineral and oil exploration rights in the Aegean. Greece says it should enjoy these rights in zones around all the Greek islands in the Aegean. Turkey says the continental shelf extends from a nation's land mass, not from its islands. The two countries nearly went to war in 1987 over mineral rights.
Turkey wants to settle other issues through formal talks. There are disagreements over airspace -- Greece claims its airspace extends 10 miles (16 km) from its borders; Turkey only recognizes six (10 km). Also, there are questions over who owns small islets not specifically mentioned in any treaty.
Greece says all disputes except the continental shelf should be resolved at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Turkey has recently indicated it is ready to take some disputes to the court. The mistrust between the two countries is rooted in more than 300 years of Turkish rule over Greece during the Ottoman era.

Disputes over the Aegean and the island of Cyprus, divided since Turkey invaded in 1974 after a coup by supporters of union with Greece, have marred relations for decades. Ties have warmed since earthquakes in both countries in 1999 brought an outpouring of mutual aid.
But old problems remain. A proposal to co-host the 2008 European soccer championships was thrown into doubt after Turkey's Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit charged Greece with sidelining the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state from the games.

Source: AP Worldstream
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