ATHENS - With two Greek soldiers facing trial and being held 2 ½ months after they accidentally strayed across the border, President Prokopis Pavlopoulos said Turkey’s holding of the men is “unacceptable and undemocratic” and again called for their release.
A number of similar entreaties have been ignored by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has essentially said the soldiers are being held as hostages and bargaining chips to force Greece to return eight Turkish soldiers seeking asylum after fleeing a failed coup attempt against him in July, 2016.
The Turkish soldiers said they took no part in the overthrow attempt and fled for their lives and Greece’s highest court said they wouldn’t be safe in Turkey and ruled against their extradition although Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is opposed to asylum for them.
Speaking from the northeastern prefecture of Evros, the region that borders with Turkey and which includes the exact location where the incident occurred, Pavlopoulos said there’s no legal reason for the Greek soldiers to be held.
So far they are facing charges only of illegal entry that happened while they were on patrol in bad weather and after similar incidents on both sides saw quick returns done at a military level.
But with Erdogan facing snap elections he called for June 24, he has been ramping up populist rhetoric in what critics said is a bid to incite Turks at the same time he has been stepping up provocations in the Aegean, sending fighter jets and warships to violate Greek airspace and waters repeatedly with no rebuke from NATO, to which both belong.
Pavlopoulos cited what he called a violation of the rule of law because no full and formal charges have been brought against the Greek soldiers. His office is only symbolic but he spoke out while in the city of Alexandroupolis on the occasion of the 98th anniversary of the area's liberation.
Main opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis was also in the city for the anniversary, the business newspaper Naftemporiki said.
That came as a Member of the European Parliament from New Democracy, Manolis Kefaloyannis went to the Turkish city of Edirne to visit the two Greek servicemen, an Army Lieutenant and Sergeant who are being jailed there.
Kefaloyannis, a former minister and Parliament deputy, is the Chairman of a joint EU-Turkey parliamentary committee which Erdogan has ignored along with all the top leaders of the EU at the same time Turkey has since 2005 been trying to join the bloc.