Greek, Turkish warships in brief faceoff near Greek islets

AFP , Sunday 29 Jan 2017

Greek and Turkish warships were involved Sunday in a brief faceoff near a group of disputed Greek islets in the Aegean, coinciding with renewed tensions between Athens and Ankara.

The Greek defence ministry said a Turkish navy missile boat, "along with two special forces rafts," entered Greek territorial waters near the Imia islets.

Located just off the Turkish coast and claimed by Ankara, the unhabited rocky specks are an historic flarepoint in a long-running demarcation dispute.

Greek coastguard vessels and a navy gunboat shadowed the Turkish group, notifying them of the violation, and the Turks left the area after about seven minutes, it said.

In Turkey, the local media initially reported that the Turkish warship -- with Chief of Staff General Hulusi Akar onboard -- was blocked by Greece from approaching the islets.

The private Dogan news agency reported that there were "tense moments" for half an hour before the Turkish ship returned to the Turkish peninsula of Bodrum.

But Turkish armed forces, quoted by the state-run news agency Anadolu, denied that the ship had been blocked, and said a small Greek coastguard vessel had watched from afar.

It added that General Akar was onboard the ship to "review and inspect" Turkish vessels in the Aegean.

The Imia islets -- called Kardak in Turkey -- lie just seven kilometres (4.5 miles) from Bodrum.

A row over their sovereignty islets flared in January 1996, when the two countries sent marines to two neighbouring islands in a sign of an imminent armed confrontation.

They then withdrew their troops after heavy diplomatic pressure by the United States, a fellow member of NATO.

Sunday's incident comes amid fresh tension between the two countries, after the Greek Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the extradition of eight former army officers who had fled to Greece after the failed July 15 coup.

Turkey lashed the ruling as "political" and threatened to scrap a "readmission agreement" under which Turkey has been taking in migrants landing illegally in Greece.

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