Defense Minister Kammenos: They are hostages – Cavusoglu: We don’t want a swap with the 8 Turkish offiecrs
Athens.- (GreekNewsOnline, ANA, Press-TV)
Relations between Greece and Turkey remain fragile as Turkish authorities continue to hold imprisoned the two Greek soldiers who crossed the Turkish border accidentally. Greek and Turkish officials made new statements over the weekend, while in Athens the opposition raised its criticism against the government.
In an interview with German weekly Die Zeit published on Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusogu said Turkey’s judiciary was seeking to determine whether the Greek soldiers crossed into Turkey by accident or deliberately.
Asked whether Ankara was considering exchanging the two men with eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece following an attempted Turkish coup in 2016, Cavusoglu ruled out such a prospect. “We do not want such an agreement,” he said.
The eight Turkish troops had rejected any involvement in the attempted coup, and Greek courts ruled they would be at risk of not receiving a fair trial if returned to their home country.
Thousands of military and police officers have been jailed or dismissed from their jobs over an alleged role in the coup. The eight who fled to Greece have repeatedly claimed that they feared for their lives back home.
The Greek soldiers told prosecutors that they had erroneously entered through a border crossing after “following footprints in the snow in an attempt to stop migrant smuggling.”
In an interview with French daily Liberation on Saturday, Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos declared that “Greece is very close to a fatal accident with Turkey,” referring to Turkish violations of Greek air space and territorial waters.
“We are obliged to defend our territory which is not only Greek but also European,” he said.
US Ambassador to Athens Jeffry Pyatt has expressed a similar concern about the Greek-Turkish tensions in the Aegean Sea.
“My concern, my fear, is the accident … As long as you have these lethal complex military systems operating close to each other there is always a terrible risk of an accident, which of course will cause great complications in your relationship,” he said in January.
Tensions have been on the rise over the detention of two Greek soldiers who were arrested for illegally crossing the border into Turkey and allegedly entering a prohibited Turkish military zone.
However, the Turkish court rejected the appeal and ruled that the pair must remain in custody on the grounds that they did not have permanent residence in Turkey and should await the result of examining the “digital data” seized from them, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency.
Rejecting the allegations leveled by Turkey, the Greek army said the two had accidentally lost their way in bad weather while patrolling around the Evros River that divides the two neighboring countries.
On Friday, Panos Kammenos on Friday asked for the immediate release of the two Greek soldiers, describing them as “hostages.”
“At this moment, there are two Greek hostages in Turkish prisons,” Kammenos said after a meeting with his Romanian counterpart Mihai Fifor in Bucharest.
“I am asking the support of the Romanian defense minister for the immediate release of these NATO, European and Greek servicemen,” he added.
His remarks are different from the position expressed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras – namely that the issue is in the hands of the Turkish justice system and that Greece will await the results of the judicial procedure.
On Thursday, Tsipras told Parliament that he considered the matter a “usual border incident,” and, in response to the demand by New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis to raise the issue with the Turkish leadership, added that he doesn’t want it to escalate into a “major diplomatic” spat that might possibly lead to turmoil.
German journalists released
Two German journalists who were detained on Friday after entering a military area near the Greek border village of Pragi, close to Didymoteicho, were released without charge on Saturday after appearing before a local misdemeanors court.
Defending themselves on Saturday, the two reporters claimed they were in the area to investigate reports that some undocumented migrants had become trapped on an islet in the Evros River.
The reporters, who said they were working for German television channel ARD, claimed they misinterpreted a sign signaling a prohibited military area and did not realize they were trespassing.