ATHENS – While ready to lodge a complaint against its claim that Turkish forces have unlawfully occupied a disputed area along the Evros River northern land border between the countries, Greece’s Foreign Ministry said it wasn’t an “invasion.”
News reports said Turkish soldiers “invaded and occupied” a patch of Greek land near where Turkey sent 10,000 migrants in February and urged them to try to get across as Greece closed its side and sent riot police and Army units to repel them.
“We stress that no foreign power is on Greek territory," the ministry said in a statement, responding to reports in British and other media. "The government has proven that it knows how to defend the borders of Greece and Europe and our sovereign rights," it added.
The reports came after Greece filed an official complaint, a demarche with Turkey for claiming an area of swamp land by the river that has shifted.
Ankara over its presentation of a section of Greek territory in the southern Evros border
“Turkish soldiers and police special forces now have a solid presence within the Greek territory and have camped in the pocket of Apiary (Melissokomeio) at Feres,” the British newspaper The Daily Mail said, citing a Greek website called Army Voice.
“Around 35 soldiers reportedly marched onto a floodplain site on the east bank of the River Evros near the town of Feres,” another British newspaper, The Sun, also reported.
Members of Turkey’s police special forces have had a presence in the area in recent weeks, blocking the work of the Hellenic Army’s geographical service trying to expand a border fence there, said Kathimerini.
“The government has already demonstrated that it can defend the border of Greece and Europe and our sovereign rights,” the Foreign Ministry said in its statement about what happened with the migrants there earlier.
The Voice of America said dozens ofTurkish soldiers and police remain planted there, defying demands that they retreat, further escalating tensions between the two NATO members as the defense alliance refuses to intervene.
The Evros River runs nearly 100 miles through Greece’s northeast frontiers, separating the country from Turkey. Its treacherous currents have claimed the lives of a number of migrants and refugees who tried to cross from Turkey over the last four years.
Turkey is supposed to contain some 5.5 million refugees and migrants who went there fleeing war and strife in their homelands, especially Afghanistan and Syria’s civil war but has complained the European Union hasn’t kept up its end of a swap deal.
About halfway down its course, the waterway swerves in and out of Turkey, creating a plain of small marsh. While officials call the area Melissokomeio, locals like Athanasios Pemousis commonly refer to it as "the horseshoe," because of its shape, said VOA.
He says the area is usually flooded in winter but it is used by smugglers during the summer to sneak refugees into Greece but that recently residents near there have seen some 35 Turkish soldiers occupying the land, setting up a tent and flying a Turkish flag from a tree.
Greece’s Foreign Ministry demanded the Turkish soldiers pull back from the spot which has become similar to a 1996 near-confrontation between the countries over the disputed islets of Imia in the Aegean where they almost went to war.
Defense experts told VOA that Turkey’s decision to send troops to the region was probably sparked by Greek plans and ongoing technical surveys to extend its border fence with Turkey, which says it owns the land.
Greek soldiers have been shot at four times from over the border and Turkish fighter jets are routinely chased out of Greek airspace by Greek fighter pilots as Turkey increased provocations with the European Union mostly staying out of it.