- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 19, 2002

NICOSIA, Cyprus Threats, air-space violations and Greek reports that Turkey has beefed up its expeditionary corps in divided Cyprus have raised tension in the eastern Mediterranean.
"The Turks are bringing thousands of soldiers," read a headline in the Greek-Cypriot daily Simerini, referring to the arrival of fresh troops to the island.
Turkish military sources in Cyprus denied any recent increase in the strength of its forces, estimated at about 35,000.
The Greek-Cypriot government said it had been monitoring the situation closely and bluntly accused Turkey of trying to create tension in the Aegean and in Cyprus as a ploy to stop Cyprus from joining the European Union.
"The Turks are in a tight spot and are trying to create tension and crisis conditions with various spasmodic actions," government spokesman Michalis Papapetrou said.
Defense Minister Socratis Hasikos said that during the past two weeks, an estimated 5,500 fresh troops arrived from Turkey to bolster the two infantry divisions and one armored division stationed in the northern part of the island.
Mr. Hasikos estimated that the reinforcements had raised the number of Turkish troops in Cyprus to more than 40,000 the highest number since Turkey seized the northern part of the island in 1974.
In Athens, the Greek government expressed concern about the intensity of violations of Greek airspace over the Aegean Sea by Turkish military aircraft. In the first week of June alone, Greeks counted 40 such incursions, requiring the scrambling of Greek interceptors at airfields throughout the country and causing mock dogfights.
"Not surprisingly, signs that Turkey intends to create tension are coming thick and fast," the Athens daily Kathimerini wrote.
"Ankara has traditionally used coercive diplomacy to force Athens into bargaining the status of the Aegean. This time, Ankara is warning the European Union that allowing Cyprus in will mean trouble for Europe."
Greek commentators speculate that because of Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's illness, influential Turkish generals have more potential for dangerous saber-rattling.
Mr. Ecevit, 77, has missed a number of major Cabinet sessions, causing nervousness among Turkish financial circles and fear of political instability. He has consistently denied rumors that he intends to resign, despite a new vertebral injury.
"I have no intention or the right to withdraw from my government duties," he told reporters in Ankara.
But Greece remained concerned about the future of its historic foe.
Political commentator Costas Iordanidis said the key question was: "In what ways can political instability affect the behavior of the [Turkish] military elite?"
Greeks and Greek Cypriots see the deadlock on Cyprus as the cause of the increased tension. The Greek Cypriots expect official acceptance by the European Union sometime before the end of the year, with membership scheduled for 2004.
That, in turn, has prompted threats from Turkey to annex the northern part of the island, which it calls the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. An annexation would virtually thwart Turkey's EU candidacy.

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