- The Washington Times - Friday, September 22, 2000

This month Greece took several steps aimed at consolidating its influence in the Balkans while seeking a peaceful and democratic resolution of the turmoil afflicting Serbia and other former states of Yugoslavia.

Greece also acted to meet the serious threats it faces from terrorism and organized crime and to improve on its internal security, whose shortcomings have been criticized by U.S. State Department and congressional reports.

A memorandum of understanding on combatting terrorism and such other crimes as trafficking in narcotics and illegal migration was signed in Washington Sept. 8 by Michalis Chrisohoidis, Greek minister for public order, and U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.

The memorandum provides for U.S.-Greek training and exchange of law-enforcement personnel and joint activities to prevent and solve terrorist actions and other crimes. This positive step comes three months after the assassination of British military attache Brig. Stephen Saunders, ambushed in his car by motorcyle-borne terrorists on a crowded boulevard in Athens.

That assassination heightened concerns about the adequacy of Greek internal security, especially in the walkup to the 2004 Olympics in Greece, which will bring the hot glare of international publicity as well as hundreds of thousands of additional visitors to the Hellenic Republic. But the killing also produced a cathartic change in Greek responses: The government of Prime Minister Costas Simitis dropped all excuses and resolved to tackle the terror issue. In fact, one Greek political observer then told this writer that, if needed, Athens would "bring in the Americans" and Israeli personnel to beef up its own security resources for a successful Olympics.

A group called November 17 claimed responsibility for the death of Brig. Saunders. The group has operated seemingly at will within Greece for the past quarter-century. Evidently a group of domestic radicals with roots in the resistance to the former Greek military junta (toppled in 1974), November 17 has carried off numerous bombings, shootings and other acts of terrorism without apprehension by Greek authorities. It is said to be a small and highly secretive group, and remains dormant for long periods, only to strike suddenly at selected targets.

The impunity with which November 17 has operated over the years and Greece's position in Southeastern Europe, astride connections to Russia, the Middle East and Africa, have made concerns about Greek responses to terrorism increasingly urgent.

Improvements already scheduled in Greece include increased security at the new Athens airport, to open early next year with the ability to X-ray every piece of luggage that passes through its portals. The present airport X-rays about 15 percent of its baggage.

The U.S.-Greek memoradum signed on Sept. 8 provides for consultation and for "a working group to further the implementation of this memorandum. This working group should consist of competent authorities of the [two] sides."

The memorandum provides for cooperation on "education, training and skill enhancement of personnel" and "scientific research for the purpose of combating crime and of developing information systems, communication means and special equipment."

At about the same time, American-born Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou toured the troubled Balkans area, including Serbia, where he met with President Slobodan Milosevic and urged that Sunday's elections be free and democratic. The visit was cut short after Serb leaders reportedly rebuffed it as "meddling."

Mr. Papandreou later told a press conference that "we wish to see a European Yugoslavia," again opened to reciprocal contacts with the wider European community and peaceful relations with its neighbors in the Balkans. Greece's diplomatic efforts to lift international sanctions against Serbia had been expected to provide leverage for Mr. Papandreou's mission to Belgrade. The visit initially was discountenanced by State Department sources but later defended by America's ambassador to Greece, Nicholas Burns.

The developments in Washington and Belgrade came within days of last week's meeting in Athens of the armed forces chiefs of 19 NATO member states. The Italian admiral presiding at the conference saluted the recent detente between longtime rivals Greece and Turkey, NATO members both.

But Mr. Papandreou reportedly told U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright during U.N.-led Cyprus talks that improved Greek-Turkish relations "definitely depend to a great degree, I would say decisively so, on the resolution to the Cyprus problem."

Cyprus is divided into the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, with a majority Greek Cypriot population, and the predominantly Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognized only by Turkey. The Greek government wants unification of the island in a bizonal, bicommunal federation with a single international identity. But Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash has pushed for a less centralized confederation.

Mr. Papandreou was re- ported saying of Cyprus, "In regards to the future form of the institutional structure, it can be nothing else but federal."

Benjamin P. Tyree is deputy editor of the Commentary pages of The Washington Times.

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