Greece seeks investigation on Turkish arson claims

Greece seeks investigation on Turkish arson claims

Greece seeks investigation on Turkish arson claims

Greek Foreign Minister Stavros Dimas is seen in this file photo. The ministry says arson allegations are serious. AFP photo

Greece lodged an official complaint with Turkey on Dec. 27 following a newspaper report that implied Turkish government involvement in setting forest fires in Greece in the mid-1990s.

The Greek Foreign Ministry described the allegations as “serious” and demanded an official response.
“As long as such information remains unclear, it will poison public opinion and undermine efforts to build relations of trust between our two peoples,” a ministry statement said, according to the Associated Press.

Turkey’s daily BirGün quoted former Prime Minister Mesut Yılmaz as saying Ankara had set forest fires in its Aegean neighbor, but Yılmaz subsequently said he had been misquoted and that the allegations were untrue.

On Dec. 27, Greek Supreme Court prosecutor Yiannis Tentes launched an emergency inquiry, ordering that investigations be reopened into mid-1990s wildfires blamed on arson, while the Foreign Ministry said it was seeking an official response from Ankara. 

Ankara replied to Greece’s requests, saying Yılmaz’s words had been misunderstood and told Greece to take into account the former prime minister’s recent statement in which he denied the previous media reports, daily Hürriyet reported yesterday.

Tensions between traditional rivals Greece and Turkey were running high at the time referred to in the newspaper report, with the two countries coming to the brink of war in 1996 due to the disputed sovereignty of a tiny island in the Aegean Sea. The two NATO allies have since improved ties.

Yılmaz, who served as Turkey’s prime minister three times during the 1990s, was quoted by the newspaper as saying that a report into a scandal in Turkey excluded information about Turkish state secrets, including “forest retaliation against Greece.” 

In his subsequent correction, Yılmaz said he had been referring to unsubstantiated reports of Greek involvement in Turkish forest fires.