A Turkish court has again rejected release for two Greek soldiers being detained and facing trial on charges of accidentally crossing the border after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan essentially admitted they were being kept as hostages to force the return from Greece of eight Turkish soldiers seeking asylum after fleeing a failed coup against him in 2016.
It was the third time lawyers representing the Greek soldiers asked the court to release them, media reports said. They have been held since March 1 in a high-security prison in the city of Edirne.
They said the didn’t notice they had strayed across the border while on patrol in bad weather along the Evros River, the point where Turkey lets human traffickers send refugees and migrants to cross unlawfully into Greece, but said the soldiers were a threat for entering Turkish territory.
There has been on indictment of the Greek soldiers although earlier reports said they could even face charges of espionage, creating more tension between the NATO allies as Turkish fighter jets and warships keep violating Greek airspace and waters.
European Union leaders asked for their release, as has the European Parliament but Erdogan, who wants Turkey in the EU, has ignored them and NATO said it wants no part of any trouble between the countries even though both are in the defense alliance.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who opposes asylum for the Turkish soldiers – one of whom has already had it granted and with all eight due to be released from pre-trial detention in May – said he would not go along with an exchange.
The Turkish soldiers denied taking any part in attempt to overthrow Erdogan, who said they were conspirators and as elements in Tsipras’ ruling Radical Left SYRIZA said they are guilty and want them returned or tried in Greece where they have not committed any crimes, with critics saying the Greek government wants to find way to appease Erdogan to prevent him from flooding Greek islands with more refugees and migrants.