Greece rejects Turkey's call for demilitarisation of Aegean islands

Greek Defence Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos rejected his Turkish counterpart’s call to demilitarise 16 Aegean islands that he said were under threat by Turkey’s policies in the sea, the Greek Reporter said.

Turkey's Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Friday Greece had violated international law by arming 16 of 23 Aegean islands placed under demilitarised status.

“Whatever is being threatened is not demilitarized,” Panagiotopoulos said on Saturday. “Greece does not provoke, does not violate the sovereign rights of others, but it doesn’t like to see its own rights violated.”

The race for hydrocarbon resources around Cyprus has brought tensions between Greece and Turkey to a peak as Ankara claims areas of the sea that Athens says are in its exclusive economic zone. Dogfights and naval confrontations in the Aegean have accompanied the sparring over Mediterranean territories.

Greek-Turkish relations have for decades experienced regular crises over disputes about their maritime jurisdictions, and the close proximity of their warships in disputed seas raises the risk of confrontation.

The two countries almost came to blows in 1996 over the uninhabited Kardak islets, known as Imia in Greece, after three Greek military officers were killed when their helicopter crashed over the islets during a patrol.

Exploitation of natural gas resources has been a source of tension in the eastern Mediterranean between Ankara and Athens since last year, as all parties have stepped up their gas exploration and drilling efforts.