By Hurriyet Daily News
Greece is not planning to exchange two soldiers detained by Turkey for allegedly illegally entering the country with eight Turkish soldiers currently seeking asylum in Greece, the Greek junior foreign minister said on March 3.
“This is pure fantasy. We are not at war with Turkey to conduct an exchange of prisoners,” junior minister Giorgos Katrougalos told reporters on March 3, adding that such “spy stories” originated in Turkish media reports.
“This is not an unusual episode. Such incidents often occur on the border,” Katrougalos said, according to state agency ANA.
A Turkish court on March 2 placed two Greek soldiers under arrest on espionage charges after they illegally crossed into Turkey, state media reported, in a move that risks a new flaring of tensions between Ankara and Athens.
The court in the northwestern province of Edirne ordered the pair be charged with “attempted military espionage” and “entering forbidden military territory,” state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
The Greek army said the two soldiers lost their way in poor weather while patrolling the area around the Meriç (Evros) river that separates the two countries.
The soldiers also said they got lost because of the weather conditions.
Vassilis Beletsiotis, spokesman for the Greek general staff, told AFP they were not accused of spying.
This incident comes amid an ongoing row between the two neighbors over the extradition of a soldier. On Jan. 23, the Greek justice minister said Greece will not extradite eight Turkish soldiers who fled there after the failed 2016 coup but an offer to try them in Athens is still open.
Turkish Deputy Justice Minister Bilal Uçar met Greek Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis in Athens on Jan. 23 and raised a new extradition request with the Greek authorities, underscoring the importance Ankara attaches to the issue.
Greece’s supreme court had previously ruled out extradition.
Kontonis told reporters that he had discussed the case of the eight soldiers with Uçar in Athens.
“Naturally, the case of the eight soldiers was discussed. Greece’s top court had rejected Turkey’s request for the soldiers’ extradition and, therefore, they will not be sent back,” he said.
“The legal framework was presented from our side and it was hopefully fully understood by the Turkish side,” Kontonis said.
“The options are clearly stated in the Greek penal code, so it is at Turkey’s discretion to take the appropriate legal steps,” he added, referring to the possibility of a trial taking place in Athens.
Later that day, Uçar said Turkey extended a third extradition request to Greece for the ex-soldiers. “We want the extradition of the eight soldiers,” he told reporters at the Turkish Embassy in Athens. He added that a new file along with new evidence was given to Greek officials in connection with the latest extradition request.
The eight former Turkish officers are currently amid a legal trial concerning their status in Greece.
Although they have all applied for asylum, only one of them has been granted this status. However, this status has temporarily been revoked by Greek authorities since then.