NATO chief says Turkey justified in increasing troops along Syria border

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen played down the risk on Monday of a »»

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen played down the risk on Monday of a military confrontation between Turkey and Syria and said Ankara was justified in beefing up its defenses along the Syrian border.

NATO member Turkey has strengthened its troop presence and air defenses along its southern border since Syria shot down one of its jets on June 22, heightening tensions between the neighbors caused by an uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Asked if he was concerned about Turkey's military buildup and whether there was a risk it could lead to a confrontation with Syria, Rasmussen said told a news conference: “No, on the contrary. I commend Turkey for having shown restraint despite the very tragic aircraft incident.”

“I find it quite normal that Turkey takes necessary steps to protect its population and its territory,” he said. He also said NATO had received no request from Turkey to deploy AWACS surveillance planes or other military equipment.

At an emergency meeting in Brussels last week, NATO allies condemned Syria's shooting down of the Turkish military plane, but stopped short of threatening a military response. Syria says it shot down the Turkish jet in self-defense and that it was brought down in Syrian airspace. Turkey says the jet accidentally violated Syrian airspace for a few minutes but was brought down in international airspace.

Turkey scrambled six F-16 fighter jets in three separate incidents responding to Syrian military helicopters approaching the border on Sunday, its armed forces command said on Monday.

Rasmussen said he expected NATO allies to receive updated information from Turkey this week about the situation on the Turkish-Syrian border. However, a NATO official said there were no plans at present for any formal NATO ambassadors' meeting.

Rasmussen said the alliance was following developments in Syria with great concern and was “actively engaged” in political consultations on the situation there. He condemned “the escalating spiral of killing, destruction and human rights abuses in Syria.”

But he repeated NATO had no intention of intervening militarily in Syria and called for a political solution.

Turkey has become increasingly vocal against Assad, calling for him to step down, and has given sanctuary to rebels and groups opposing the Syrian leader. There are more than 35,000 Syrian refugees living in camps on the Turkish side of their border.

2012-07-02

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