Turkish court refuses to release Greek soldiers detained in border region

The Greek-Turkish border line right on the bridge over the river Evros, in Thrace region. The grey line on the road marks the exact point where the two countries meet.

A Turkish court on Monday rejected a request for the release of two Greek soldiers who were arrested for illegally trespassing on Turkish soil.

Prosecutors had wanted the soldiers charged with espionage as well as trespassing.

The two soldiers were arrested on Friday for entering a prohibited military zone in the northern province of Edirne. Turkish media at first reported that the pair were arrested for “attempted military espionage.” Greek authorities have denied that claim.

According to the soldiers, they told prosecutors last week that they had mistakenly entered through a border crossing after “following footprints in the snow in an attempt to stop migrant smuggling.”

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said on Monday that prosecutors wanted the two soldiers detained for attempted military espionage as well as entering a forbidden military zone. The judge, however, ordered their arrest only on the second charge.

The Greek army said the lieutenant and sergeant lost their way in poor weather while patrolling by the Evros/Meriç River, which divides the two countries. The river marks most of the Greek-Turkish border, while a fence runs along much of the land section. Some parts however, are not clearly marked.

Before the court made its decision, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias urged NATO ally Turkey “to apply the provisions of international law and not turn a routine procedure into a major legal and political problem.”

According to Deutsche Well (DW), Bozdağ told reporters in Ankara that “there was no question of an exchange” for Turkish military personnel, echoing comments made over the weekend by Athens.

“We are not at war with Turkey to conduct an exchange of prisoners,” junior foreign minister Yiorgos Katrougalos said Saturday.

Family members of the two soldiers had a chance to visit them in jail on Monday.

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