Turkish court releases two Greek soldiers pending trial

A Turkish court has released two Greek soldiers, Aggelos Mitretodis and Dimitros Kouklatzis, pending trial on espionage charges in a case that has fueled tensions between the two neighboring NATO allies, Reuters reported.

Two Greek soldiers held in a Turkish prison for more than five months on espionage charges have landed home after a court ordered their release. Greek officials promptly traveled by plane to Turkey to collect the soldiers. The pair, dressed in their uniforms, arrived at Thessaloniki airport in the early hours of Wednesday morning, greeted by a guard of honor, Greek officials and their parents.

“I hope that their release will mark a new chapter for Greek-Turkish relations,” Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos told reporters. The Greek ministry said in a statement that Kammenos on Wednesday spoke over the phone with his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar following the release, inviting him for an official visit to Greece.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Tuesday the release of the Greek soldiers by Turkey was an “act of justice” that would help foster closer relations between the two neighbors, who are frequently at odds.

“The release of the two Greek officers is an act of justice which will contribute to friendship, good neighborly relations and stability in the region,” a statement from Tsipras’s office said.

President Prokopis Pavlopoulos on Wednesday also welcomed the release of two Greek soldiers pending trial by a Turkish court. “The release of the two Greek servicemen was a basic act of justice by the Turkish authorities,” Pavlopoulos said in a statement from the island of Karpathos.

Pavlopoulos said that “this happy development” shows the way Turkey should and can follow in order to restore friendly ties. “We Greeks are aware of the Turkish people’s problems. They are having difficult times and we know it,” he added.

Greece said the soldiers crossed into Turkey by mistake while following the trail of suspected illegal migrants. The Turkish court ordered their detention in March on suspicion of illegal entry and attempted military espionage.

The court in Edirne ruled for the continuation of their incarceration on July 17, just a few days after Prime Minister Tsipras and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met in Brussels on the sidelines of a NATO summit and had agreed to focus on efforts to reduce tensions in the Aegean.

A recent report by the Greek Kathimerini daily suggested that Qatar was willing to mediate for the release of the two Greek soldiers.

Greece insists they strayed across the border accidentally during a spell of bad weather, and officials including Tsipras had accused Turkey of holding them hostage as leverage over its neighbor.

The court in Edirne had rejected previous appeals for the release of the soldiers, who are yet to be formally charged, saying the pair posed a flight risk since they had no registered place of residence in Turkey. However, the judge ruled for their release pending trial on Aug. 14, easing one of the rifts keeping Turkey and Greece apart. (SCF with turkishminute.com)

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