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Turkish F-16s said to carry out bomb raids

by Reuters, 05/18/99

BRUSSELS - Turkish F-16s have been participating in NATO bombing raids on Yugoslavia, sharply increasing Ankara's involvement in the airstrikes, a spokesman for the Turkish mission at NATO headquarters said yesterday.

''These F-16 aircraft are very well-equipped,'' he said. ''They are able to carry out multiple combat operations, as well as close air protection, as well as airstrikes - whatever is necessary.''

Turkish jets previously had been patroling Balkan airspace, providing protection for attacking planes.

The intensification of NATO's bombing raids against Yugoslavia and the desire of alliance military commanders to use Turkish air bases has prompted worries in Turkey.

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit expressed concern last month over Ankara's taking a more active role.

Turkey's Radikal newspaper said yesterday that ''Turkish F-16s have been raining bombs on Serb targets since April 29.'' The Hurriyet daily, with close ties to the armed forces, also carried the story.

Turkish military spokesmen were not immediately available for comment.

Turkey has provided 18 F-16s to the alliance campaign - 11 stationed at the NATO base at Aviano, Italy, and the seven others at home. All of the planes were equipped with laser-guided bombs, the spokesman said.

As the tempo of the NATO airstrikes has increased, General Wesley K. Clark, the NATO commander, ''needs all the aircraft available and capable of airstrikes for these missions,'' the spokesman said.

''Turkey contributes to the ongoing alliance operations like other allies,'' he said.

Turkey has a small stretch of Balkan territory, which makes its air bases attractive to NATO planners who want to surround Yugoslavia and diversify the routes of the air attacks.

''The Turkish Council of Ministers agreed in principle to allocate these bases for alliance operations but the technical operational details are being considered in contact with NATO military authorities,'' the spokesman said.

He said the details had yet to be finalized and said he had no indication when NATO planes might get to use the bases, which he identified as Corlu, Bandirma, and Balikesir.

''It may come at any moment, it may come in 10 days, it may never come,'' he said.

The Radikal report said the Turkish military was close to agreement with NATO over which of its bases could be used.

The spokesman stressed Turkey was also playing a leading role in humanitarian efforts by taking in 16,000 ethnic Albanians and setting up refugee camps in Albania and Macedonia.

This story ran on page A15 of the Boston Globe on 05/18/99.
Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.