NEW YORK – Greece’s major opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis told a Greek-American audience here that Turkey must release two Greek soldiers being held after they said they accidentally strayed across the border while on patrol in a storm.
Mitsotakis referred to an “increased Turkish provocations” in the Aegean after two separate incidents earlier in which Turkish vessels collided with Greek patrol boats off the rocky, disputed islets of Imia before both countries withdrew after fears an accidental conflict and fighting could erupt where they almost went to war in 1996 confrontations.
“We are greatly concerned about the recent incident, as two Greek servicemen are being held in a maximum security prison because they unintentionally entered Turkish territory,” he said.
Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, leader of the marginal, pro-austerity, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who are junior partners in a coalition led by Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, said the men are being held hostage to force the return of eight Turkish soldiers seeking asylum in Greece after fleeing a failed July, 2016 coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in which they said they took no part.
Both countries said that’s not the case but there are fears that the Greek soldiers, who initially faced charges of illegal entry, could see espionage added, which would ramp up tension between the countries.
Tsipras said he won’t intervene and will let the Turkish courts decide what happens to the soldiers although he wants Greek courts to overturn asylum for one of the Turkish soldiers and block sanctuary for the others.
A video made public on March 15 shows the eight Turkish servicemen before they boarded a military helicopter to flee from Turkey, said Kathimerini.
The video shows the men walking through a military camp a few hours after the failed coup, according to Turkish authorities who have sought the men’s extradition from Greece.
Three of the men in the video appear to be armed. The video also shows the arrival of security forces at the military facility.