26 April, 2007
Defence Minister Evangelos Meimarakis addressed Parlia-ment's standing committee on foreign affairs and defence Tuesday night for a review of the ministry's activities in 2006 and planning for 2007. The meeting was held for the first time at the defence ministry headquarters, lasting more than three hours and covering a wide range of issues concerning the armed forces.
Amongst the topics discussed were gradual hikes in military pay -- beginning in the fall of 2007 -- the hiring of 2,750 five-year NCOs (2,150 in the land forces and 600 in the navy), the enlistment of 2,200 high readiness army reserves, the establishment of a military cemetery in Gjirokastr, Albania, and the continuation of mine clearing in the Evros River region within the framework of the Treaty of Ottawa.
Meimarakis also referred to the establishment of military relations with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro, a Greek-Turkish natural disaster management exercise in Greece and the gradual settlement of the 10.9-billion-euro armaments debt inherited from the preceding government.
Responding to committee members' questions, Meimarakis said Greek positions were clearly stated by National Defence General Staff Chief Adm. Panayiotis Hinofotis, following a question related statements made by the Turkish military chief in Thessaloniki last week within the framework of a Balkan general staff chiefs' meeting. He added that he does not believe in impressive results but, rather, direct dialogue creates a good climate for the resolution of the problems.
The minister also referred to regional training centres, the armed forces' 2010-2015 reorganisation plan, a gradual reduction of military conscription terms, the problem of conscription-dodgers, 2004-2007 military personnel transfers, certified translation of treaties and the modernisation of state-run defence industries. He also termed criticism by the main opposition PASOK party as unfair.
Meimarakis also expressed his willingness to brief the main opposition in private on operational issues.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Meimarakis outlined Greece's overall obligations in various peacekeeping missions around the world before focusing on the regional situation and the allocation of its military resources.
"Greece has the privilege of being in a strategic position. At the same time this creates the need to spend a great deal of money on defence. Greek fighter planes fly much more frequently than the (NATO) Alliance's other planes; our naval vessels patrol and operate much longer than any other member-state, and this should be examined in detail," the minister said, adding:
"It is not possible for Greece to exert such arduous efforts, over the past three years, to slash the deficit under 3 percent (of GDP) and at the same time meet demands by the Alliance for greater participation in such (peacekeeping) missions. We want to fulfil these requests but it is not possible, in the end, to meet them under such conditions."
Finally, the Greek defence minister said a further improvement in Greece-Turkey relations depends squarely on the latter, while he again criticised what he called repeated violations of Greek national airspace by Turkish warplanes and "unilateral demands (by Ankara) along with arbitrary interpretations (of international law)."
Source: Athens News Agency