By The New Arab

The Greek government has rejected a proposal by Turkey’s president to exchange two Greek soldiers detained since early March for eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece in 2016.

Erdogan mentioned the proposed swap during an interview on Saturday, saying if Greece wanted its soldiers who strayed into Turkish territory back, it should return the officers who allegedly took part in a failed coup against him in July 2016.

The government in Athens on Sunday noted “the positive aspect of the Turkish president’s statement” on swapping soldiers, but said “we note again that statements like that are unacceptable”.

Erdogan’s counterpart Prokopis Pavlopoulos said the offer was “inconceivable”, while Athens’ Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, said it provided further proof the two men were being held as “hostages”. 

“It is truly regrettable that there should be such confusion between soldiers who are being held arbitrarily and Turkish citizens who have been granted political asylum in accordance with the rules of international law,” Pavlopoulos said.

Greece maintains its border guards strayed into Turkish territory after getting lost in bad weather. They were arrested after being found in a “forbidden military zone” on Turkish soil and are being held in a high security prison.

Greek courts have ruled the Turkish officers, who deny being involved in the attempted putsch, would not face a fair trial in Turkey.

Erdogan on Saturday also spoke about the need to reduce tensions between the two countries in the Aegean Sea.

Neighbours and NATO allies Greece and Turkey have historically been at odds over several maritime and other issues. 

In recent months, Turkey has protested against the Greek administration in Cyprus carrying out offshore gas exploration, which it says violates the Ankara-backed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ rights to any discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean.

Last week, the EU warned Turkey was taking strides away from the gaining EU membership, noting its recent spats with European states were “not conducive to good neighbourly relations”.

The European Commission added there were “serious shortcomings” on democracy and the rule of law in Turkey since the 2016 coup attempt.