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Monday, July 26, 1999 Published at 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK

World: Europe

Turkey and Greece aim to ease tension

Greece, left, and Turkey seek progress by avoiding key issues

Senior Turkish and Greek diplomats have begun a series of meetings in Ankara aimed at easing decades of tension in their relations.

Correspondent Tom Kankonnen: "The meeting focuses on uncontroversial issues"
The countries hope to make progress by avoiding sensitive issues, such as the demarcation of territorial waters in the Aegean Sea and the future of the divided island of Cyprus.

The two sides, led by Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Mithat Balkan and Greek Foreign Ministry Political Director Anastasios Skopelitis, discussed tourism for over an hour at the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

Cyprus not on agenda

Environmental issues and trade are also on the agenda of the two-day meeting.

[ image: Greek officials arrive for the talks]
Greek officials arrive for the talks
A second round of negotiations is scheduled for Thursday in Athens and will focus on economic cooperation, regional projects and measures to combat crime and illegal immigration.

The issue of Cyprus was not among a list of topics on an agenda released by the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

Greece and Turkey disagree over Cyprus, divided into a Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish-occupied north after Turkey intervened against a Greek military-inspired coup in 1974.

No breakthrough expected

Ankara also accuses Greece of supporting Kurdish rebels of condemned guerrilla leader Abdullah Ocalan, whom Greece sheltered in Kenya before Turkey captured him in February.

Athens denies backing the rebels.

By avoiding the key issues which divide them, Turkey and Greece hope to calm tensions that hinder, among other things, close cooperation within Nato.

Tension between the pair also aggravates Turkey's strained ties with the European Union, of which Greece is a member.

The two countries have been on the brink of war three times in the last 25 years.

Officials from both sides say the talks are deliberately pitched at an uncontroversial level and are not expected to produce any major breakthrough.

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