BRUSSELS – Using a NATO meeting to try to bring pressure, Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras again called on Turkey to release two Greek soldiers being detained since they accidentally crossed the border on March 1 while in patrol in bad weather.
Both countries belong to the defense alliance whose Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has refused to intervene despite a sideways shot from Tsipras who said that, “The unprecedented fact that two soldiers from a NATO country are being held by another NATO is an open sore for all of NATO,” but he’s been ignored.
He also denounced what he called, “The fact that a neighbor of ours insists on violating international law in the region, and attempts to exclude the Aegean from operational planning, to the detriment of our collective capabilities.”
There had been worries in Greece that the Greek soldiers could face espionage charges as tensions have grown between the countries after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan essentially admitted the Greek soldiers are hostages to force the return of eight Turkish soldiers seeking asylum in Greece after fleeing a failed July 2016 coup attempt against him.
The Turkish soldiers, three of whom have already been granted asylum over the objection of Tsipras, said they didn’t take part in the coup attempt and Greece’s highest court has ruled they can’t be extradited because their lives would be in danger.
Erdogan said Tsipras promised him they would be swiftly sent back to face trial in Turkey and wanted the Greek leader to overrule the court at the same time the Turkish President said he couldn’t interfere with his country’s justice system.
The soldiers are being held in the border city of Edirne but haven’t been charged. and NATO, to which both countries belong, said it wants no part of their squabble and won’t help, nor has there been any word from the international community.
The heads of Greece’s bar associations plan to ask the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) to send observers to monitor their case and said that Turkey is using the issue for political reasons and flouting due process, according to Kathimerini.
Their call came after the head of Turkey’s delegation to NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly, Ahmet Berat Conkar, linked the fate of the Greek soldiers to the eight Turkish soldiers.
Written to European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, the letter published by Greece’s Ta Nea newspaper is dated May 31 and takes issue with “the unpleasant approach of the Greek authorities about the eight putschists and European Parliament’s insincerity regarding the issue.”
The Greek lawyers said the letter confirms their belief that the Turkish justice system “does not operate independently and cannot guarantee of a fair trial.”