Two Greek Soldiers Held in Turkey Could Get Official Assignment

FILE - Turkish paramilitary police officers escort Greek soldiers Aggelos Mitretodis and Dimitros Kouklatzis in Edirne, Turkey, Friday, March 2, 2018. (DHA_Depo Photos via AP)

ATHENS – In a bid to help two Greek soldiers held in Turkey after accidentally straying across the border while on patrol in bad weather on March 1, the government will ask Parliament to designate them as being posted there on assignment.

Talking to state-run ERA radio, Alternate Defense Minister Fotis Kouvelis said the amendment will also insure the soldiers, Lieutenant Angelos Mitretodis and Sergeant Dimitris Kouklatzis, will receive the wages of servicemen posted in a foreign country.

Turkey said the man can’t be released because they would flee as they have no official designation to be in that country. Greece’s move would be symbolic as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the men are being kept as hostages to try to force the extradition of eight Turkish soldiers seeking asylum in Greece after fleeing a failed coup against him in July, 2016 in which they denied taking part.

The Turkish soldiers were released from a maximum 18-month detention period but are under heavy guard by 80 riot police at a military barracks after an Erdogan aide said they could be kidnapped and returned.

Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras opposes asylum but said they can’t be extradited after Greece’s highest court ruled against it, saying their lives would be in danger as Erdogan, who purged civil society and the military after the coup, said he’d like to bring back the death penalty, a deal-breaker for Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.

Chances for the Greek soldiers release seems slim until after snap June 24 polls that Erdogan called in a bid to strengthen his mandate after gaining near-dictatorial powers in a referendum after the failed attempt to overthrow him.

Turkey accused Greece of providing refuge to “terrorists” and has warned that the issue will impact relations between the two countries.