The Pendeli Municipality in northern Athens will demand compensation from Turkey after claiming that forest fires in Greece in the 1990s may have been started by Turkish saboteurs, an accusation based on remarks by former Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yılmaz, Today's Zaman reported.
The former leader later denied Turkish involvement in the fires.
On Wednesday the municipality decided to bring the case to a national court in Greece and to the International Court of Justice. This was made possible after gaining the support of the Greek government as only states are able bring cases to the court, which is based in The Hague, Holland.
Dimitrios Stergiou-Kapsali, mayor of the Municipality of Pendeli, said they are able to apply to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg if the application to The Hague fails, in remarks to New Europe Online made on Jan. 4.
The municipality will seek compensation to restore up to 25,000 acres of forestland that was ruined in a fire in 1995, at a cost of almost 47 million euros, the Cihan news agency reported.
The Greek public was shocked by the remarks of Yılmaz, who revealed two weeks ago that the fires were started by Turkish agents in retaliation for Greek involvement in previous forest fires in western Anatolia.
In further remarks to New Europe Online, Stergiou-Kapsali said that Yılmaz's statement sheds light on the mysterious fires across Greece in the 1990s which resulted in the destruction of thousands of trees.
Kapsali said the decision to file suit against the Turkish government was taken by the town council of Pendeli on Wednesday.
Yılmaz later rejected the allegations, saying he was misunderstood by the media and refuting the possibility of a Turkish role in the forest fires in Greece. He went on to say he had touched upon the possible involvement of the Greek National Intelligence Service in forest fires in the Aegean region of Turkey during a telephone conversation with a Turkish journalist two weeks ago.
The Ilia Municipality in western Greece and the Zacharo Municipality in the southwest announced last week that they will also seek compensation.
The issue was also on the agenda when Egemen Bagıs, Turkish minister of EU affairs and chief negotiator for Turkish accession to the EU, met with Greek officials in Athens on Jan. 4 and Jan. 5 during a vacation in Greece. He met with his Greek counterpart, Stavros Dimas, at the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss several issues, including regional matters and bilateral relations.
As a result of the statements made by Yılmaz, one of the topics on the table was the allegation that the forest fires in Greece in the 1990s were set off by Turkish agents.
According to Greek officials, Dimas told Bagis that the revelation had caused frustration amongst the Greek public, but he noted that the Greek government will not let the issue poison the relationship between the two countries.
In response to a question by a Greek journalist after the meeting, Bagıs said Yilmaz's remarks were misunderstood: "He himself explained this misunderstanding. In the 1990s, Turkish and Greek governments accused each other of arson, but no proof was found at the time."
As reported by Cihan, he added that the allegations will not damage the close friendship between the two countries and only serve to remind people of the bad memories of the last years of the 20th century. According to him, relations are greatly improved now, in contrast to the fragile and rancorous ties between Turkey and Greece in the 1990s.
Bağış also met with Greek Minister of Defense Dimitrios Avramopoulos on Thursday during his visit to Greece. Bagıs said he received a warm welcome from the Greek defense minister. Bagis and Dimitrios Avramopoulos held a one-hour meeting at the Greek Defense Ministry in Athens.