NATO to investigate Mediterranean incident between French, Turkish warships
By Robin Emmott and John Irish
BRUSSELS / PARIS (Reuters) - NATO will investigate French allegations that the Turkish Navy has not responded to an Allied call to inspect a ship in the Mediterranean this month, the alliance chief said Thursday.
The French Armed Forces Minister raised the issue at a meeting of NATO chiefs of defense at a time when the two allies had exchanged barbs over the crisis in Libya and accused each other of assisting their opponents in the country's war.
Paris has repeatedly accused Ankara of violating a United States arms embargo. Turkey rejects the French accusations and denies that the incident described by France has ever occurred.
French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said that on June 10, Turkish warships on the French warship Courbet in the eastern Mediterranean lighted their radar lights three times.
She said the Courbet was on a NATO mission to check if a Turkish ship, the Cirkin, smuggled weapons into Libya after it turned off its transponder, did not identify itself and did not disclose its final destination.
She added that Turkish sailors had also put on bulletproof vests and were behind their light weapons during the incident.
"There can be no complacency about such behavior. This particularly serious incident needs to be addressed, and our allies share our concerns because eight European allies in NATO have clearly supported me today," Parly told the French after the ministerial meeting Legislators.
"This act was extremely aggressive and cannot be part of an ally who is facing another ally that is doing its job under NATO command," she said.
A senior official from the Turkish Ministry of Defense told Reuters on Thursday that France's "unsubstantiated" allegation was not supported by concrete evidence and that the French ship was undertaking rapid and dangerous maneuvers that violated NATO principles and naval security rules.
Turkey informed civilian and military NATO officials about the incident, he added.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a press conference that the incident had been raised at the meeting by several allied countries. "My message is that we made sure that NATO military authorities investigated the incident to get complete clarity on what happened," he told reporters.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott and John Irish; editing by Mark Heinrich)
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