Greece yesterday urged embattled UN forces to stay in Bosnia, saying a withdrawal would lead to further conflict in the region and offered to mediate to help defuse the crisis.
"Withdrawal of peacekeeping forces means expansion of the war," Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias told reporters before flying to the Dutch seaside resort of Noordwijk to attend a NATO foreign ministers meeting on the crisis. "Our country supports the stay of the blue berets in Bosnia because their presence safeguards the peace process," he said.
Government spokesman Evangelos Venizelos announced yesterday that Mr. Papoulias has sent Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic a letter on Sunday which, it was revealed later, urged him to use his influence with the Bosnian Serbs to stop actions against the UN troops and release the hostages.
Bosnian Serbs retaliated against two NATO strikes last week by taking 400 peacekeepers hostages and using some as human shields to deter further air attacks. Most of the hostages are French, British and Ukrainian. France has threatened to pull its soldiers out of Bosnia unless they are given the means to defend themselves.
The five-nation Contact Group - consisting of the United States, Russia, Germany, Britain and France-- met last night at the Hague to consider French plans to bolster the peacekeeping force in Bosnia.
Mr. Papoulias said he was in continuous contact with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and reiterated that Greece would not participate in any military operation in Bosnia. He said the capture of the peacekeepers and their use as human shields were "unacceptable" actions. "Such actions have been rejected by international public opinion... they do not contribute to the peace process," Mr. Papoulias said.
In Brussels meanwhile, European Affairs Minister George Mangakis revealed the contents of Mr. Papoulias' letter to Mr. Milosevic to his EU counterparts. Mr. Mangakis said that Mr. Papoulias called on the Serbian president to "exert all his influence on the Bosnian Serbs, especially on their military leaders, to stop every action against UNPROFOR, comply with the requests of the UN Security Council and free, immediately and unconditionally, all the blue berets."
Greece, Mr. Mangakis said, has repeatedly offered its good offices for the finding of a solution through dialogue "and is ready to do so, again, today." Mr. Mangakis made the statements during an EU Council working luncheon focusing, among other things, on investigating the positive role which Mr. Milosevic could play towards a defusion of the crisis.
Briefing the participants on the latest developments in Bosnia, UN mediator Lord Owen also drew attention to the "key role" which Mr. Milosevic could play towards easing the tension. The 15 EU ministers unanimously agreed on the necessity to keep the UNPROFOR troops in Bosnia.
The need was noted, however, to "re-examine the content of the mandate of the UNPROFOR forces under conditions ensuring their full safety," concentrate the dispersed troops and reinforce the forces with additional staff. The ministers did not make any reference to sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs.
In Athens earlier yesterday, government spokesman Evangelos Venizelos said that Greece was ready to offer its good offices to help bring peace to war-torn Bosnia and had sent a letter to Serb President Slobodan Milosevic in this respect.
He reiterated that Greece remained firmly in favour of a political solution to the Bosnian crisis and ruled out the possibility of Greece becoming involved in the military conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina. "Any Greek participation, if it is decided, will be strictly supportive of the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers and will be such that it does not create a danger of military entanglement," he said.
Mr. Venizelos clarified that the AWACs (Airborne Warning and Control Systems) aircraft based at Aktion, western Greece, would not be used, nor would other military installations located in Greece. The spokesman underlined that the government had stressed to all parties concerned that the further exacerbation and spread of the conflict in Bosnia would create a grave threat for the entire region. National Defence Ministry sources said yesterday the ministry was "closely following" developments in Bosnia-Herzegovina but saw no need for emergency measures since Greece is not near the area of conflict.
According to the same sources, the estimation in the ministry is that the current crisis in Bosnia will be defused in a manner similar to the way in which increased tension de-escalated in the past.
Meanwhile, the sources said that the Aktion air base in western Greece was providing support for NATO AWACs aircraft which are carrying out surveillance missions in the greater region. The stationing of AWACs at the Aktion air base is within the framework of Nato's monthly planning, the sources said, adding that the aircraft were being used for surveillance missions only.
The sources said that the latest developments in Bosnia posed no threat to the 20 Greek officers and NCOs currently in Zagreb, Croatia as European Union observers.
Referring to the developments in Bosnia, main opposition leader Miltiades Evert said he was less anxious about the situation "since now there is a rapprochement between Serbia and the international community in order for peace to reign in the region." He said that there were factors in former Yugoslavia that opposed such a prospect.
Political Spring leader Antonis Samaras criticised the government for "not assuming diplomatic initiatives towards the settlement of the Bosnian crisis". "The effort for peace, so that we don't have solutions dictated by war in our neighbourhood, requires the assumption of diplomatic initiatives," Mr. Samaras said.
Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou yesterday approved funds for the repair of monasteries in Mount Athos, Halkidiki. Press Under-Secretary Telemahos Hytiris said the prime minister had agreed to the provision of eight billion drachmas for the plan.
The money will come from the state budget and European Community funds, Mr. Hytiris said. The plan also includes organisation of an exhibition of Mount Athos treasures in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, next year.
Comments by former alternate foreign minister Theodoros Pangalos on alleged differences of opinion in the foreign ministry concerning Greek positions on the 1996 EU intergovernmental conference, drew a sharp reaction from government spokesman Evangelos Venizelos yesterday.
Mr. Pangalos, Mr. Venizelos said, saw politics as "a string of unsubstantiated personal attacks" and had hastened to condemn the recommendations of the committee without having precise knowledge of them and without having made any proposals of his own. Mr. Pangalos should have awaited a government meeting on the issue, scheduled for June 2 and 3, he said.
In an article in yesterday's newspaper Eleftherotypia, Mr. Pangalos called on "all those irrelevant, incompetent, and lazy petty politicians, who knock down decades-long efforts by worthy and well-grounded public servants, to step aside."
He described the members of the ministerial committee working out the positions for the conference as a team with inadequate knowledge, driven by personal ambition rather than real interest in the matter.
He referred to differing positions supported by European Affairs Minister George Mangakis and the foreign ministry's Secretary-General for European Affairs Nikos Theodorakis, concerning the federal and intergovernmental options, and the issues of unanimity and relations between the EU and the Western European Union.
Commenting on Mr. Pangalos' statements, Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias said his former alternate has been trying to keep himself in the limelight lately. He should have asked to be informed about the committee's work first and then make his criticism, he added.
National Defence Minister Gerasimos Arsenis will meet US Defence Secretary William Perry and his aides at the Pentagon today. Mr. Arsenis, currently on an official visit to the US, will also meet Assistant Secretary of State Strobe Talbot at the State Department in the afternoon.
The leader of a Turkish party yesterday said he supported a proposal by former Turkish prime minister and Motherland Party leader Mesut Yilmaz to turn the Ayia Sophia cathedral into a mosque. Turkish Great Unity Party (BBP) leader Muhsin Yiazizioglu told a press conference at the Turkish National Assembly yesterday that the 1,500-year-old Byzantine cathedral in Istanbul "should be reconverted into a mosque again."
Mr. Yiazizioglu said Ayia Sophia functioning as a museum was "disrespectful" to history, adding that "an end should be put to this disrespect and Ayia Sophia should function as a mosque." He said that a relevant bill existed on the issue and requested that it be given priority and discussed as soon as possible.
Last week, Mr. Yilmaz threatened to reconvert the Ayia Sophia into a mosque if what he called "religious and cultural pressures" against Moslems in Western Thrace did not stop. In reply, Greek government spokesman Evangelos Venizelos had said that "unfortunately, we frequently hear these kinds of threats, which are an affront to international law, from Turkish politicians."
President of the Republic Kostis Stephanopoulos met yesterday with main opposition New Democracy party leader Miltiades Evert to discuss the outcome of Mr. Evert's recent trip to the United States where he had talks with government officials and United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
Mr. Evert said that he briefed the president on the outcome of his trip to the US, the peace plan for the Balkan region and the role Greece can play in the region due to its strategic position and economic possibilities. Asked to comment on the Skopje issue, Mr. Evert said he did not foresee any immediate solution as there is still a large gap between the two sides.
Mr. Evert reiterated that he supports the "large package" because any other solution which does not include the issue of the name could lead to the recognition of the neighbouring country as "Macedonia".
Ivory Coast foreign minister and acting chairman of the UN General Assembly, Amar Asal, who is in Athens, yesterday discussed the Bosnian crisis with main opposition leader Miltiades Evert. In statements afterwards, he described the situation in Bosnia as "lamentable", and welcomed both Greek government and opposition contacts with the warring sides in the search for a solution. Mr. Asal also met with President Kostis Stephanopoulos beforehand. He was briefed by Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias on Sunday.
A confidential Foreign Ministry note, containing serious charges about the production of hard drugs in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) was revealed in Parliament yesterday, in answer to a question tabled by New Democracy party deputy Giorgos Sourlas.
The document, which has been sent to Greek diplomatic missions abroad, says that heroin was being produced near a military camp in Kousanovo and inside one in Krivolak. Chemicals used in the production of heroin are manufactured by a Skopje-based company - which also processes heroin - and imported by another.
According to the note, many poppy plantations are located near Novo Selo, in proximity with the Greek border, and in Ofce Pole, adjacent to the Axios River. It also cites information provided by the International Bulletin of Narcotics, according to which large quantities of heroin, recently seized in Germany, Switzerland and Greece, were handled by ethnic Albanian drug lords originating in Kosovo, Skopje, and Skgder in Albania, who use central hotels in the city of Skopje as bases.
"According to information, they provide the money for the purchase of arms for the Albanians in Kosovo," the note adds. It also says that Strunica, and the whole area around the Lake of Doirani are transit stations in the handling of narcotics, and that the maximum sentence for drug trafficking in FYROM is six months.
The Greek-Albanian sub-committee on border regulation had its inaugural session here yesterday. A framework agreement on border movement for 1995-1999 was drafted at the meeting. This agreement concerns infrastructure projects for road networks and border checkpoints between the two countries. It also refers to telecommunications, environmental and economic development. This programme will absorb 45 million Ecu for the 1995-1999 period.
The 4th Panhellenic Journalist's Congress, entitled "The element of modernity and the Greek character of the mass media", will be held June 9-12 on the island of Samothrace, northern Greece. The conference is organised by the Evros Prefecture in co-operation with the Evros regional Administration, the Local Municipalities and Communities Union and the municipality of Samothrace.
Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Serapheim's contribution to the Church will be marked by the Aristotelian University in Thessaloniki on Saturday. Thessaloniki University rector Antonis Mantis will present Archbishop Serapheim with an honorary plaque on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of his accession to the post and his contribution to the Church. The event will be attended by city officials, university professors and students.
Greek drivers Leonidas Kyrkos, driving a Ford Cosworth, and Aris Vovos, driving a Lancia Integrale, dominated the second leg of the 42nd International Acropolis Rally yesterday, following Italian former world champion Micky Biasion's dropping out of the race.
A total of 12 cars dropped out, of the 52 which set out in the morning from near Lamia. Tomorrow's third leg from Kammena Vourla to the Peace and Friendship Stadium in Piraeus is expected to produce the first Greek victory in 40 years.
A delegation from the Athens News Agency (ANA) met with Cyprus News Agency (CNA) officials here yesterday to discuss better co-operation between the two. ANA General Director Andreas Christodoulides and Harilaos Papadopoulos, chairman of the CNA board, headed the Greek and Cypriot delegations.
Mr. Christodoulides also met yesterday with Cyprus government spokesman Yiannakis Cassoulides and discussed ways to further co-operate in promoting the Cyprus problem. Mr. Christodoulides is scheduled to meet today with Greek Ambassador to Nicosia Alexandros Sandis and the board of the Cyprus Journalist Union. The delegation will return to Athens this afternoon.
The first conference of the Panhellenic Federation of Journalists' Unions issued a resolution yesterday condemning the continuing occupation of part of Cyprus by Turkey. The resolution expressed "deep concern ... at the continued violation of international law and fundamental human rights by the military occupation of 37 per cent of Cyprus' soil by Turkey over the past 21 years".
"This intolerable situation has grave consequences for the Cypriot people, keeping an independent UN member state partitioned... at a time when Europe is rapidly approaching unification, and bearing critical dangers for the security and peace in the sensitive region of the eastern Mediterranean as well as the Near and Middle East regions."
Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou met yesterday with Hans Peter Keitel, the chairman of the Hochtief joint venture chosen to build the new $2.2 billion airport for Athens at Spata, Press Under-Secretary Telemachos Hytiris announced yesterday.
Mr. Hytiris said that, during the meeting, the Hochtief representative expressed interest in further investments in Greece, apart from the Spata airport. Greece chose Germany's Hochtief consortium as a partner to build and operate the new international airport after improving the terms of a previous contract.
The contract with Hochtief is expected to be signed at the end of June. Mr. Keitel also met Environment, Town Planning and Public Works Minister Costas Laliotis and other members of the Major Projects Committee yesterday afternoon. Mr. Laliotis, and his deputy Costas Geitonas, both ascertained considerable progress.
They said they believed the preparation of the contract could be completed in a reasonable period of time. The contract, they said, had already started being prepared in sections and the timetable set out for completion at the end of June would be observed.
The government froze a contract its conservative predecessor made with Hochtief in October 1993, opting to review offers by the group and by another bidder, Aeroports de France. The deal was due to be signed the day of national elections.
Under the terms of the revised contract, the Hochtief-led group would own 45 per cent of a company to be set up with the Greek state to operate Spata airport, against 60 per cent agreed in the previous contract, the source said. Hochtief would receive part of the airport's revenues for 30 instead of 50 years.
If the deal went ahead, preliminary construction would begin early in 1995, the source said. The German consortium includes Hochtief Aktiengesellschaft of Essen, Flughafen Frankfurt Main AG, ABB Schaltanlagen GMBH of Mannheim and H Krantz-TKT GMBH.
National Economy Minister Yiannos Papantoniou, Finance Minister Alexandros Papadopoulos and Governor of the Bank of Greece Lucas Papademos met at the National Economy Ministry yesterday to examine the course of 1995 budget targets. Mr. Papadopoulos said that the fiscal situation was examined and that all taxation issues were discussed during the meeting.
According to sources, they also discussed a circular which was sent to all ministries by the National Economy Ministry regarding the drafting of next year's state budget. Also discussed was the issue of public sector appointments for 1996 as well as the policy to reduce the public sector by abolishing non-productive services and organisations. Mr. Papadopoulos announced that the interest rates on 12-month treasury bills to be issued tomorrow will drop from 16.25 per cent to 16 per cent.