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Greece issues ultimatum for resolution of NATO exercise dispute

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October 17, 2000 


ATHENS (AP) - Greece on Monday issued an ultimatum for NATO to resolve a dispute over a military exercise in the Aegean Sea which has rekindled long-standing boundary disputes with regional rival Turkey.

Greece will pull all its forces out of the exercise on Tuesday if a change in flight plans is not redressed by then, said government spokesman Dimitris Reppas.

"We are not participating in today's air exercise," Reppas said. "Tomorrow, if NATO's position doesn't change (to restore the original plan), we will withdraw completely from the exercise."

The ultimatum comes after a weekend of talks in Turkey between Greek, Turkish and NATO military officials to resolve the problem, the Greek defense ministry said.

Airspace over two Greek islands in the eastern Aegean - Lemnos and Ikaria - was placed off limits last week in the Destined Glory exercise being held in the area.

Greece, which has sent 13 warplanes, 127 soldiers, a landing ship and one frigate, reacted by ordering its warplanes to halt their activities in the exercise on Wednesday.

Its naval and land forces, which began maneuvers last week with the first Greek troops landing on Turkish soil in 78 years, are still participating.

Flight plans were changed by Turkish officials after the American commander of the NATO exercise, Lt. Gen. Ronald Keys, left for the United States and a Turkish air force general took command, the Greek government says.

Greece wants the original flight plans restored. An answer is expected to come from NATO's Commander in Chief South Europe, Admiral James O. Ellis, the defense ministry said.

The dispute stems from decades-old disagreements over military control of the Aegean Sea, and is one of the most complex issues dividing the two NATO allies.

Greece keeps a large military presence on Lemnos. Turkey objects, citing the 1923 Lausanne Treaty to claim the island should not be militarized.

Greece counters that the 1936 Montreux Convention supersedes the earlier treaty and allows military installations on the island, located near the Dardanelles, a waterway controlling access to the Black Sea.

NATO has previously excluded the island from exercises to avoid taking a stand on the issue.

The Alliance recently attempted to work around the problem by placing military exercises under full NATO jurisdiction rather than under joint control with national military commands.

Relations between Turkey and Greece began to thaw last year when major earthquakes in both countries led to outpourings of mutual aid and sympathy.

Besides Greece and Turkey, troops from the United States, Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy are involved in Destined Glory.


Iraq, Saudi, Plane

Passengers of hijacked plane return to Saudi Arabia

RIYADH (AP) - They had been in the air only two hours when first class passengers noticed a flight attendant emerge from the cockpit with tears in her eyes. Passengers became more concerned when the "fasten seat belts" warning light failed to go off and the monitor tracking their flight went blank.

Saudi Arabian Airlines Flight 115, bound for London with 105 people on board, had been hijacked.

But passengers weren't told this while they were in the air. The crew remained so calm that some passengers learned of it only after the plane landed in Baghdad late Saturday after a 7{-hour odyssey that began in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia.

"I first thought we landed at Heathrow in London. But when I looked through the window I said to myself, `This is not London,"' said Iqbal Dawood, a passenger from Pakistan.

Half an hour after landing in Baghdad, the captain announced to passengers that the plane had been hijacked and that negotiations were under way.

Hours later, the two hijackers, both Saudis, surrendered peacefully and were detained.

The plane flew back to Saudi Arabia on Sunday night, landing at Riyadh's King Khaled International Airport at 12:30 a.m. Monday (2130 GMT Sunday).

The passengers were given bouquets of flowers as they disembarked and served refreshments in the VIP lounge.

At 4:43 a.m. (0143 GMT), another Saudi Arabian Airlines Boeing 777 took off carrying all but seven of the 88 passengers to London. Airline officials said the seven who chose to stay behind comprised six Saudi citizens and the flight's sole American.

Hours earlier, there were joyful scenes at Baghdad airport as the plane was readied for departure. Some passengers were so excited to be going home after 24 hours in Iraq that they ran across the tarmac to the aircraft.

The passengers and crew had stayed at Baghdad's best hotel, the Rasheed, in the heart of the city. They were brought to the airport late Sunday and offered cakes and drinks before boarding the plane. Many shook hands with Iraqi officials as they left the airport building.

A member of the Saudi royal family, Prince Bandar bin Mohammed bin Saad bin Abdul-Rahman, 19, was among the passengers as he had been flying to London to study English. He was driven to the airport in a special limousine.

The hijacking ended after high-ranking Iraqi government officials negotiated with the two hijackers, Iraqi state television said. Details of the negotiations were not revealed.

Saudi Arabia's Interior Minister Prince Naif told reporters at Riyadh airport Monday that his country would do all in its power to procure the extradition of the hijackers. His government has identified them as Faisal al-Biloowi and Ayish al-Faridi. Hijacking carries the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.

It is unclear whether Iraq will extradite them. The countries have had no relations since Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait in 1990, but a pre-Gulf War treaty provides for extradition.

Taher Haboush, the Iraqi official who led negotiations with the hijackers, said they had asked for political asylum. But, in their news conference at the airport Sunday, the hijackers denied asking for asylum and said they would eventually like to leave Iraq.

The men, who appeared to be in their 20s, said they hijacked the plane to demand rights for the Saudi people.

"We want to choose our own leaders. The time of kings and monarchies is over," al-Faridi said.

The men also complained about human rights abuses, corruption and unemployment in the kingdom.

"Saudi people cannot find work and they bring foreigners in to protect us. We can protect ourselves," said al-Faridi, who covered half of his face with a scarf.

The last charge is particularly sensitive at a time when anti-U.S. sentiment is high in the region amid bloody Israeli-Palestinian clashes. Many Arabs believe the United States is biased toward Israel, but the Saudi government is a close U.S. ally and has allowed U.S. troop bases on its territory since the Gulf War.

It was not clear what means the hijackers had used to seize control of the aircraft. A hijacker had at one point threatened to blow up the plane unless it was allowed to fly to Baghdad, Saudi officials.

Saudi officials said on condition of anonymity that al-Biloowi was an undercover security officer at the Jiddah airport and al-Faridi was a border guard.

Airline officials said the passengers included 40 Britons, 15 Saudis, 15 Pakistanis, four Yemenis, four South Africans, two Kenyans, and one each from France, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Oman, the Palestinian territories, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States.

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