A Turkish court has ordered two Greek soldiers to be held on charges of 'military espionage.' The soldiers claim they lost their way in bad weather before being apprehended by a Turkish border patrol.
A court in the northwestern Turkish city of Edirne has ordered the detention of two Greek soldiers, charging them on suspicion of "military espionage." Greek authorities have demanded the soldiers — a lieutenant and a sergeant — be immediately released.
The soldiers, who were apprehended by officers in a Turkish military zone, claim they lost their way due to heavy snow and fog before straying over the border. The two-man Greek patrol was detained in an unclearly marked wooded area near Edirne.
The Greek military confirmed the men's statements and said that Greek and Turkish authorities were in contact and working toward a solution to have the soldiers returned.
A Greek official said Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was "closely following" developments and was in "constant contact" with the Greek defense and foreign ministers.
Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said he expected the return of the two soldiers to be a "pure formality" and that Athens expected to "swiftly settle the issue."
However, the Turkish court's decision on Friday could see the men ordered to remain in prison ahead of a trial, a date for which has not yet been set up.
Despite being NATO allies, relations between Greece and Turkey have become increasingly strained in recent years.
One festering sore is the issue of Cyprus, the northern part of which has been occupied by Turkish troops since 1974, following an Athens-inspired coup aimed at uniting the island with the rest of Greece.
Tensions in the Aegean Sea continue to remain high after Turkey last year vowed to block any moves by the Greek Cypriot government to exploit oil reserves in the Mediterranean.
However, Ankara's greatest gripe concerns a Greek court decision not to extradite eight Turkish former servicemen who fled to Greece following the botched 2016 military coup against the Turkish government. The court ruled that the men, who deny any role in the attempted government overthrow, would not receive a fair trial if they were returned to Turkey. The ruling infuriated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
When asked whether Ankara could keep the two soldiers as leverage to secure the extradition of the eight Turkish servicemen, Tzanakopoulos said: "I have heard various scenarios since this morning about possible negotiations the Greek government could enter with Turkey on possible exchanges. These are spy and conspiracy scenarios that do not merit comment."
dm, js/aw (AP, AFP, Reuters)