Admiral sacked after Aegean dispute

THE GREEK government has sacked the armed forces chief of staff, Admiral Christos Lyberis, for his handling of a military stand…

THE GREEK government has sacked the armed forces chief of staff, Admiral Christos Lyberis, for his handling of a military stand off with Turkey in the Aegean Sea last week.

"The government council for defence and foreign policy matters asked Admiral Lyberis to resign. He refused and then the council decided on his replacement, which will be finalised on February 18th," the Prime Minister, Mr Costas Simitis, said.

Official sources have said Mr Simitis, who took over as Prime Minister last month, was furious with Admiral Lyberis for his public account of their discussions during the crisis.

Greek and Turkish warships confronted each other over two tiny islets in the eastern Aegean last week, with both countries claiming the barren rocks as their national territory. They withdrew their ships and troops, and took down their flags after the US intervened.


The Greek media criticised Mr Simitis (59) for telling parliament the Greek flag would not be lowered on the tiny islet of Imia, and then, within 24 hours, agreeing to a US mediation plan which removed the flag.

Media commentators and an array of politicians said that taking down the flag could be construed as meaning there was some doubt about the sovereignty of the islets.

Admiral Lyberis, in an account sent to the media, said he had advised the Prime Minister of various plans of attack to dislodge a team of Turkish commandos who had seized one of the two islets.

His account implied that the armed forces were ready to take military action but the politicians, and Mr Simitis in particular, prevented this.

The Defence Minister, Mr Gerasimos Arsenis, was known to have opposed efforts to replace the chief of staff but he accepted the decision rather than risk an open split in the new government.

Meanwhile, the British Foreign Office has angrily dismissed as "nonsense" a senior US diplomat's criticism of European leaders for failing to act to avert the clash between Greece and Turkey.

The US Assistant Secretary of State, Mr Richard Holbrooke, had told a Washington newspaper European leaders were "literally sleeping through the night" while President Clinton negotiated by phone with Athens and Ankara to settle the dispute.

"It is nonsense to say that Europe was asleep while the US was active on the Imia dispute," the Foreign Office said in London. The statement said the British Foreign Secretary, Mr Malcolm Rifkind, spoke personally to the Turkish Foreign Minister, and British ambassadors "in both Athens and Ankara were active throughout the night."