Greece says Turkish gov’t may be holding 2 soldiers for political gain

Greece said on Monday that Turkey appeared to be seeking some political leverage by continuing to hold two of its soldiers without trial for a month since they crossed a land border between the two countries, according to a report by Reuters.

The border guards were detained after crossing the frontier in a heavily forested area in northeastern Greece in bad weather on March 1. “It appears that Turkey — and this was one of our concerns from the outset — wants to use this for political purposes,” said Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos.

The rhetoric between the two countries has increased in recent years, and since eight soldiers fled to Greece in the wake of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, autocratic Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly accused Greece of harboring “coupists.” He has also accused Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of reneging on a promise to swiftly send the eight back.

Greece has said its two soldiers crossed into Turkey by mistake while on foot patrol in bad weather. Turkish courts have ordered their detention on suspicion of illegal entry and attempted military espionage.

“A month later and we don’t even have charges by the Turkish judiciary against the two Greek soldiers, something which I think is crossing the line,” Tzanakopoulos told Real FM, an Athens radio station.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry on Monday criticised the Greek Prime Ministry statement and claimed that the rhetoric in the press statement issued Sunday demonstrates that the Greek authorities have started to increasingly lower the level of discourse against Ankara. “These remarks, which are not in line with governmental responsibility, cause great concern,” the statement said.

The statement said Athens brought the principle of rule of law to the fore when it suits its interests. “However, when it does not, Greece has no qualms about totally disregarding this principle by not even implementing the international courts’ verdicts. Recent history reveals this,” the statement added.

Meanwhile, Greek Prime Minister Tsipras urged Turkey on Tuesday to release the two Greek soldiers as a gesture of good will, during a meeting of his cabinet. “Of late [Turkey] has intensified its provocations and is escalating the situation on all fronts,” Tsipras said.

“It is unfair that they are being held. Just as we, in the past, returned Turkish soldiers who may have crossed the Greek border by a few meters, I expect the Turkish president to today do the same,” Tsipras said and added that “the judicial process should be expedited to allow these two officers, who did nothing more than their duty, to come home.”

Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos has also questioned President Erdoğan’s mental health over the detention of the two Greek soldiers, the Greek Kathimerini daily reported on Tuesday. Erdoğan “has gone completely crazy” Kammenos told a news conference outside the Greek parliament, adding that “you cannot answer to a madman.” The soldiers could be sentenced to up to 15 years, he said, as in Turkey “nothing works democratically.”

Kammenos is the leader of right-wing party ANEL, the smaller partner in the governing coalition. “If you watch Midnight Express, you will see that they kept on making up charges against him,” Kammenos added, with reference to a 1970s film about an American drug smuggler physically and mentally tortured in Turkish detention. “Turkey has no courts while its justice system works under the orders of the sultan,” he said, referring to Erdoğan.

The Greek opposition party Movement for Change criticised Kammenos for his words, saying they were not befitting a defence minister.


Also on Tuesday, a Greek court rejected the Turkish government’s extradition request for a member of the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), according to the Greek ANA-MPA news agency. Ali Ercan Gökoğlu of the DHKP-C was arrested last November in Athens and has since been jailed pending trial.

Before the decision of the Larissa Appeals Court, the prosecution argued that the suspect should not be extradited because “there is no guarantee for a fair trial,” it was reported. Gökoğlu’s arrest along with eight others came days before President Erdoğan arrived in Athens for an official visit. The nine suspects were remanded in custody for “possessing weapons and explosives,” “being members of a terrorist organization” and “possessing forged documents.”

The Greek Appeals Courts has also denied extradition requests for other DHKP-C members, among them Hasan Biber, Hazal Seçer, Mehmet Doğan and Şadi Naci Özpolat.

Greek media outlets reported that the suspects, including one who was granted political asylum in France, were planning to launch an attack on Erdoğan’s motorcade during his December visit to Athens. Biber is believed to be one of the perpetrators of the twin bombings in 2013 that targeted the Turkish Justice Ministry and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) headquarters in Ankara.

The DHKP-C is an offshoot of a Marxist-Leninist movement that was established in the 1970s. The organization was founded in the 1990s after it splintered from a larger group of far-left organizations responsible for a string of attacks. It kept a relatively low profile for many years, but in 2013, a DHKP-C militant carried out a suicide bombing at the US Embassy compound in Ankara, killing a Turkish security guard.

Greece and Turkey have a host of historical grievances, from ethnically divided Cyprus to mineral and airspace rights in the Aegean Sea. While there has been no clear suggestion that the cases involving the two sides’ soldiers are connected, there has been plenty of speculation. Tzanakopoulos said, however, that the two matters were “totally dissimilar.”

Greek courts have three times rejected Turkey’s demands that the eight Turkish soldiers be extradited. “The rule of law prevails in Greece, which has a Prime Minister who respects and is familiar with Greek judicial practice, and not a Sultan who can make promises on their (judicial) rulings,” a statement from Tsipras’s office said on Sunday.

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