Turkey’s arrest of two Greek soldiers who strayed across the border in March 2018 and who have been detained ever since took place on the order of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Greek Kathimerini newspaper reported, citing Greece’s Defense Minister Panos Kammenos.
Lt. Aggelos Mitretodis and noncommissioned officer Dimitros Kouklatzis were detained on March 2 in a military zone in Edirne’s Pazarkule district, which hosts a border gate with Greece.
Turkey accused the soldiers of military espionage and entering a military zone, making them one of the ongoing points of tension between Ankara and Athens. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has called the soldiers hostages and accused Turkey of using the pair to bargain over eight Turkish servicemen who sought refuge in Greece after a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
The Greek foreign minister echoed Tspiras’s statements, saying the two had been arrested so that they could eventually be exchanged for the eight Turkish servicemen in Greece. “I do not think this was a random act. They found an opportunity on a night with snow to put their plan into action,” the Greek foreign minister told Greek Real FM radio.
Turkish Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson Hami Aksoy on Friday rejected the Greek Defence Minister Kammenos’s claim. Aksoy called Kammenos’ claims irresponsible and unserious and added that Turkish authorities provided all reasons behind the arrest of the two Greek soldiers as well as the ensuing legal process to their Greek counterparts.
“Despite that, the continuous attempts to make news with meaningless and unfounded claims are seen as an effort aiming to divert the attention of the public to other directions for Greece, which has failed to respond our rightful and legal expectations about the suspects of the July 15 coup attempt,” Aksoy said.
Meanwhile, during their meeting in Athens, Qatar’s Defence Minister proposed his Greek counterpart Kammenos to mediate for the release of the two Greek soldiers, Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported on Thursday. Kammenos thanked his Qatari counterpart for the offer, noting the extent of the emirate’s relations with Turkey, Kathimerini said.
Turkey has repeatedly demanded that the Turkish servicemen be returned by Greece; however, Greek courts ruled the men could not be sent back as they would not receive a fair trial.
The eight Turkish soldiers are seeking asylum in Greece after commandeering a helicopter to flee Turkey as a coup against President Erdoğan crumbled in July 2016. (SCF with Ahval)