Greek Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias hinted yesterday at a possible trip to Belgrade later this week to help efforts to ease tension in war-torn Bosnia.
"Greece is perhaps the only country with open channels of communication with all warring factions," Mr. Papoulias said, leaving open the possibility of Athens undertaking a mediating role to help defuse the current resurgence in tension.
The foreign minister was speaking after a meeting with his NATO counterparts here, which called for the unconditional release of some 400 UN peacekeepers taken hostage by Bosnian Serbs in retaliation for two NATO air strikes last week.
The foreign ministers, Mr. Papoulias said, admitted that a solution to the crisis could be achieved only through political and diplomatic means. On the alliance's decision not to rule out further air raids on Bosnian Serbs, Mr. Papoulias said "such an option should only be used as a means of protecting the United Nations peacekeepers".
The minister said he shared the concern of several other NATO members on the effectiveness of military operations and strongly criticised the latest round of NATO air raids against Bosnian Serb targets. "This hasty decision of air strikes reflects a weakness in the co-ordination of action," Mr. Papoulias said.
He stressed the role of the Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic as perhaps the most significant factor in achieving a cease-fire and speedy resumption of talks in the framework of the Contact Group's peace procedures. "Athens has taken complementary and supportive action to further promote the Contact Group's initiatives," he said.
Mr. Papoulias added that Greece backed "a gradual recognition of Bosnia in conjunction with the easing of (UN) sanctions against Serbia," which, diplomatic sources said, was expected to be proposed to Mr. Milosevic by a Contact Group envoy expected in Belgrade today.
NATO yesterday demanded the unconditional release of all UN peacekeepers held hostage by Bosnian Serbs. "We will not be intimidated, we demand the unconditional release of (the 400) hostages," NATO Secretary-General Willy Claes told reporters after the meeting. NATO deliberately kept open the option of future air strikes.
"NATO air power remains available to help protect the safe areas and the UN peace forces," the foreign ministers said in a final communiqui. Mr. Claes told reporters the alliance wanted the UN peacekeepers to remain in Bosnia and stood ready to help in any way it could to beef up the force, reduce its vulnerability, and strengthen its ability to act. "We remain ready to use all means to support the UN, if the UN requests us to do so," Mr. Claes added.
NATO ministers said alliance planes would also continue to enforce a "no-fly" zone over Bosnia in operation since 1993 and a naval blockade on arms shipments in the Adriatic. The statement strongly supported the continued presence of UNPROFOR forces in former Yugoslavia "with their safety assured and a strengthened capability to carry out their mission in pursuit of clear objectives."
The NATO ministers did not say how UNPROFOR could be strengthened but officials have spoken of re-grouping the 22,400-strong force so that isolated units could not fall into the hands of the Serbs.
Meanwhile, an ANA dispatch from Belgrade yesterday said Contact Group envoy, Robert Frasure, was expected to arrive in the country today to resume talks aiming at persuading Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to recognise Bosnia. Diplomatic sources in Belgrade said Mr. Frasure will offer Serbia a partial suspension of UN economic sanctions in return for recognition.
European officials predicted that, since Mr. Milosevic had achieved most of the guarantees he requested from the international community, he was close to recognising Bosnia. Recognition would be an important step towards peace since it would be an additional lever on Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to accept a negotiated agreement with the Contact Group.
In Athens, government spokesman Evangelos Venizelos yesterday did not rule out the possibility of Mr. Papoulias flying directly to Belgrade from the NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Noordwijk. "Greece is ready to undertake any initiative which would lead to a de-escalation of the crisis," the spokesman said.
Asked if the operation of the Aktion air base in western Greece, which is providing support for Nato's AWACs aircraft, constituted involvement in Alliance air strikes against Bosnian Serb targets, Mr. Venizelos said "continuous surveillance is one thing , and co-operation in a raid quite another."
The Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) issued an announcement yesterday accusing NATO and the European Union of "bringing closer the danger of a general conflagration which will involve the peoples of both the Balkans and Europe." The KKE also criticised the Greek government of involvement "in NATO adventurism in former unified Yugoslavia," despite its commitment that Greece would refrain from any sort of backing.
"The dramatic developments in Bosnia bring to the fore the great dangers which continue to threaten the sum of the peoples in the Balkans," Coalition of the Left and Progress Nikos Constantopoulos said yesterday, adding that Greece "should in no case en gage in the advancing crisis."
He added that "large-scale initiatives should be taken to show Greece's special place in the Balkans and decisively contribute to the promotion of peace procedures (in the region)." Mr. Constantopoulos said that a step in that direction would be a resolution to the Skopje issue and the full normalisation of relations with Albania.
National Defence Minister Gerasimos Arsenis met with US Secretary of Defence William Perry yesterday at the Pentagon on Bosnia and ways to resolve the crisis. Mr. Arsenis who began a three-day visit to Washington yesterday met privately with Mr. Perry before the Greek and US delegations met.
Speaking to reporters after the meetings, he said they had also discussed issues of interest to Greece "mainly about issues to be discussed at Nato's ministerial meeting next week, the issue of the regional headquarters of the alliance, developments in the Balkans, and the role played by Greece in the Balkans in the framework of the Partnership for Peace".
"What is being discussed today is not so much Greece's position that the headquarters must be activated, as much as that it is an issue of credibility of NATO itself, that NATO adopted a decision in 1992, and this decision is not being implemented today because Turkey is raising, in our opinion, an unreasonable veto," he said.
Questioned whether discussion had included Greek relations with Turkey and confidence building measures in the Aegean, Mr. Arsenis said they had not. "I raised issues of stability in the wider region, the Mediterranean and the Middle East, which is being threatened by religious fanaticism and the failure of nations to stabilise their economies and proceed to economic development. I drew Mr. Perry's attention to the fact that such destabilising phenomena could create problems for security not only in southern Europe, but in the whole of Europe," he said.
Greece views the "huge" issue of Nato's enlargement "as an ongoing and developing course, which ... can develop in a balanced fashion, so as to include countries of the European south, that is Bulgaria and Romania," Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias told the NATO ministerial session yesterday.
Referring to the development of a 'special relationship' between the alliance and Russia, Mr. Papoulias expressed the hope that nothing will intervene to overturn Moscow's initial decision to sign two relevant texts today, concerning the detailed programme for military co-operation in the framework of the Partnership for Peace plan, and the special political relationship for the maintenance of peace and nuclear non-proliferation in Europe.
He added that the alliance had undertaken to draw up an 'internal report' on the issue of enlargement, the findings of which will be submitted to the next ministerial session.
Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou met here Tuesday with Albania's Christian Orthodox Archbishop Anastasios and exchanged views on latest developments in the Balkans.
Speaking to reporters, Anastasios said he was optimistic about improved relations between Greece and Albania. "The people of both nations have been dearly hurt and they can understand each other," Anastasios said.
Before meeting with the archbishop, Mr. Papandreou held talks with Culture Under-Secretary Nikos Sifounakis and Environment Minister Costas Laliotis.
European Affairs Minister George Mangakis said yesterday the pre-accession process for Cyprus' European Union membership had already begun, citing the decision to invite Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides to the EU Cannes summit as "the first manifestation of this start."
"The pre-accession process for Cyprus has started and therefore the first manifestation of this start has already taken place, which is precisely President Clerides' participation in this summit," Mr. Mangakis said on his return to Athens from Brussels where he attended the EU's Council of General Affairs.
On Monday, the new conservative French President Jacques Chirac invited the long list of guests to underline his commitment to the enlargement of the EU. Presidential spokeswoman Catherine Colonna listed the countries as Cyprus, Malta, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.
Mr. Mangakis said the French EU presidency raised the issue at the Council which, at the Greek side's initiative, decided to go ahead with the invitation, saying it was not merely a formality but indicated something more substantive, namely that the pre -accession dialogue had started. He said the official start to the pre-accession process would begin when the EU-Cyprus Association Council convenes on June 12.
Smoking kills 15,000 people a year in Greece, which ranks first in the European Union and third in the world for per capita cigarette consumption.
At a press conference organised by the Hellenic Heart Foundation on the occasion of the World Health Organisation's "No Tobacco" day, speakers underlined that an annual average consumption of 3,000 cigarettes for each Greek had placed the country first among EU states and behind only Cyprus and Cuba world-wide.
While the number of deaths from smoke-related diseases had gradually dropped in recent years in the rest of Europe, they said, in Greece the incidence of such fatalities had surged. In 1974, 200 Greeks per 100,000 inhabitants were being treated in hospital for severe heart attacks and other forms of ischemic coronary conditions. In 1992, the corresponding figure had risen to 600 per 100,000 inhabitants.
Over the last 18 years, speakers said, the number of smokers who had been hospitalised with circulatory problems had doubled. Another finding presented at the press conference was that smokers are hospitalised 30 per cent more times during their lifetime than non-smokers.
At another press conference at the European Union offices in Athens, doctors announced that smoking, particularly when combined with alcohol consumption, was one of the main causes of cancer of the mouth, which accounts for 5 per cent of all forms of cancer diagnosed in Europe in recent years.
President Kostis Stephanopoulos has sent a message of condolences to his Russian counterpart, Boris Yeltsin, for the devastating earthquake on the remote Sakhalin Island. The quake, measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale, hit the island early Sunday and is feared to have killed at least 2,000 people, most in the oil town of Neftegorsk.
Alternate Interior Minister George Daskalakis said yesterday the Interior Ministry would fund the Kozani and Grevena prefectures with an additional 2.7 billion dr. to help tackle problems resulting from the recent earthquakes.
Mr. Daskalakis said additional funding was secured as part of local self-administration collective decisions (SATA) and concerned infrastructure works contributing to restructuring regions struck by the recent earthquake. Financing for the two prefectures based on SATA allocation criteria previously amounted to 1.2 billion dr.
A three-day congress of local and regional authorities from 34 Council of Europe states started yesterday. Among the 239 members of the Congress are a seven-member Greek delegation and three mayors from Cyprus. The agenda includes the principle of subsidiarity, local democracy, the role of the citizen and tolerance.
Greece won the Rally Acropolis for the first time in 40 years yesterday when Aris Vovos, driving a Lancia Integrale and with Costas Stefanis as his co-driver, won this year's 42nd Rally. Greece last won the rally when Johnny Pesmazoglou won in 1955 with an Opel car.
Civil servants yesterday threatened further action after staging a 24-hour nation-wide strike to press demands for back-pay, new pay scales and the right to engage in collective bargaining.
Speaking to reporters after talks with Finance Minister Alekos Papadopoulos, the president of the Civil Servants' Supreme Administrative Council (ADEDY) Yiannis Koutsoukos said that the minister had not committed himself concerning any of the strikers' demands. "In effect, the response of the minister to our demands is one of rejection," he said. Mr. Koutsoukos said that civil servants did not accept this policy and would soon take further action.
Earlier, 500 strikers rallied at ADEDY's offices in Athens and marched to the Finance Ministry, causing two hours of traffic chaos in the city centre. According to ADEDY, in many civil service departments over 70 per cent of workers participated in the strike, while the figure for state hospitals was even higher.
The figure was also high in Thessaloniki. Strikers there rallied outside the Macedonia-Thrace Ministry and submitted their requests to the Ministry's Secretary-General Niko Afentoulidis.
The government's new press and media bill was tabled in Parliament yesterday. The main opposition New Democracy party said it would not accept debate of the bill during the House's summer sessions, as the bill brought up issues of great political significance.
The Finance Ministry yesterday issued three lists of names of companies and individuals who have committed violations of the law regarding taxation and customs.
The first list includes the names of 44 advertising, publishing, commercial and oil companies, accused mainly of issuing bogus receipts to the tune of many billions of drachmas. Some of them are listed in the Athens Stock Exchange. The total amount of tax and fines imposed on them amounts to over 18 billion drachmas. Twenty-five of them have already been indicted, while the remaining 19 are still under investigation.
The second list includes 38 businesses in the entertainment and catering sector, accused of not charging entrance fees and not issuing receipts. Total fines imposed amount to about 233 million drachmas. The third list includes 40 names of firms and individuals accused of illegally importing fuels, alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, foodstuffs, gold and luxury cars.
Industry, Energy, Research and Technology Minister Costas Simitis said yesterday the government had drafted an industrial policy plan which had the support of both the Federation of Greek Industries (SEB) and the General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE).
Mr. Simitis, who was addressing a seminar organised by GSEE's administration on industrial policy, expressed optimism over the course of Greek industry and the view that an increase in remuneration could provide an important incentive for the healthy development of enterprises. He said that in present-day conditions of internationalisation, one's aim should not merely be to increase volume but to focus on the qualitative dimension of development, since only in this way could Greek enterprises be competitive.
Mr. Simitis said that what was required to this end was long-term planning on developing enterprises, linking remuneration to competitiveness, training and utilising human potential and continuing the stabilising policy, but stopping the transfer of resources from working people to other social strata.
Alternate Industry Minister Christos Rokofyllos said the privatisation programme would continue "without dogmatism."
The amount of 1.5 billion dr. will be provided by state and Community funds for road works along the Limenas-Limenarion Thasou national network on the island of Thassos. Five hundred million from the amount will go for the ring road to bypass Limenas, the capital of Thassos.
The value of exports passing through the port of Kavala in April amounted to 1.3 billion dr., while imports totalled 1.4 billion dr. over the same period. Products exported were primarily tobacco, marble, plastics, olives and clothing.