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Friday, 30 November, 2001, 18:50 GMT
Viewpoint: Plane-spotters knew the risks
Two of the group of 12 British plane-spotters
Greece has been threatened with reprisals
By Athens-based journalist Angelos Stangos

It seems that a lot of people in Britain, including government officials, are concerned about the fate of their 12 fellow Britons - and two Dutch people - who have been arrested and accused of spying in Greece.


Even in Greece the judiciary is independent and is not controlled by the government - just like in Britain!

Some British media have taken the opportunity to start a campaign demanding the release of these people, threatening Greece with reprisals if it does not comply.

Even Prime Minister Tony Blair called Greek Prime Minister Kostas Simitis in order to show his personal interest in the issue - and at the same time to send the message that as the British Government sees it, these people were merely indulging in a hobby.

They are plane-spotters, who try to raise the level of their adrenaline by taking pictures of planes in military airfields.

The Greek public is not really interested.

Plane-spotter
Plane-spotters "like to take their chances in 'extreme sports'"

The press and the electronic media discovered the story when the British side got involved and the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, George Papandreou, decided he should play the role of judge, acquitting the accused to stop the "bad press" the country has been receiving.

From a political point of view, he may be right, but even in Greece the judiciary is independent and is not controlled by the government - just like in Britain!

'Extreme sports'

The question of whether the detained Britons are innocent or guilty of spying is something for the courts to decide.

My opinion is that they are innocent of spying. They are not spies, they are people who like to take their chances in "extreme sports".


I feel sure that trying to take pictures now in an American military base would also be a good way of raising one's adrenaline levels

But this does not mean that they have not broken the Greek laws, if they indeed took pictures in forbidden areas despite previous warnings, and if they had equipment that enabled them to listen to the conversations of the pilots with the control towers.

It is not uncivilised to arrest people who are suspected of breaking the law.

One should also understand that the Greek authorities are very sensitive on matters of security for a variety of reasons.

Tighter security

It is well known that the tense relations between Greece and Turkey sustain a climate of suspicion, and after the events of 11 September the measures that have been taken are even stricter than before.

One should not forget that Greece has been accused many times of failing to attain British or US security standards.

British people are renowned sportsmen, and the plane-spotters seem to have knowingly taken risks.

Part of the game was to fool the authorities and the guards in order to take pictures of military airfields.

I feel sure that trying to take pictures now in an American military base would also be a good way of raising one's adrenaline levels.

Despite all this, for the good of my small country, I think that the arrested Britons and Dutch should be set free.

I hope, though, that we will not see them again.

Angelos Stangos writes for To Vima newspaper

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Paul Wood
"The Greek government has been embarrassed by this whole affair"
Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou
"There are no problems as far as conditions are concerned"
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