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Deadly 1996 Aegean clash is confirmed

May 22, 2003 (by Lieven Dewitte) - A former Turkish naval commander confirmed on Monday that a Greek warplane had shot down a Turkish F-16 fighter in the Aegean in 1996. The incident, which cost the life of one of the two Turkish pilots, Captain Nail Erdogan, was attributed to an accident at a time of heightened tension.
Greece and Turkey had nearly gone to war over the Imia islets in the eastern Aegean in January of that year.

Last week, a Greek news magazine, Krama, reported that the Turkish plane was hit during a dogfight between Greek and Turkish planes. The Greek pilot reportedly fired an air-to-air missile by mistakenly pressing his trigger button for too long while registering that he had got the better of his Turkish rival.

Yesterday, Ahmet Corekci (whom the Anatolia news agency described as "then naval forces commander" and the Agence France-Presse as "air force chief" at the time) confirmed the claim in comments to the liberal Turkish daily Milliyet. In a report headlined "Our plane was hit," Corekci said the Turkish F-16 was shot down by a Greek jet and that the "Greeks removed all the evidence," Anatolia reported.

Ankara should ask for compensation, Corekci said, according to the AFP, quoting from the same report.

The Turkish F-16 crashed during a training mission on October 8, 1996 in what Ankara said was international air space north of the Greek island of Samos, close to the Turkish mainland. One of the pilots managed to eject and was rescued by Greek forces but his co-pilot, Captain Nail Erdogan, was killed.

Greece has refused to confirm the report officially. "The Defense Ministry has not confirmed such an incident," government spokesman Christos Protopappas said yesterday. "At the time, a sworn inquiry was ordered, on the basis of regulations governing such incidents, and a report was filed. The shooting down of a Turkish aircraft was not confirmed. If the Turkish plane crashed because of a mechanical problem, this is something we do not know and can under no circumstances attribute to the Greek side," he said.