Turkey’s government spokesman Bekir Bozdag said his country could abduct eight Turkish soldiers seeking asylum in Greece after fleeing a failed coup in July 2016 against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in which they denied taking part.
“It is our duty to find them (eight Turkish officers and NCOs), to pack them up and return them to Turkey in order to hand them over to Turkish justice,” media reports said, with others adding he said, “It is our duty to find those ‘putschist’ soldiers… pack them up and bring them to Turkey.”
That came after the eight soldiers were released from a maximum 18-months pre-detention but they are still under watch in a secret location but could be free to move on to other European Union countries.
“From statements made in Greece by its Prime Minister right after the coup, we were of the positive opinion that they would be extradited to Turkey. Admittedly we had hope,” Bozdag was quoted by Greek media.
“We thought that Mr. Tsipras would keep his word. With time, though, we saw that the judicial authorities were mobilized and these ‘putschists’ were not extradited.”
Another Turkish spokesman, Hami Aksoy, said in a statement that Ankara is determined to ensure the return of the “traitors” so that they stand trial in Turkey.
“We have often stated that we condemn Greece’s refusal to extradite the eight traitors to Turkey who plotted (the failed coup on) July 15, 2016, as we had condemned the decision of Greek justice to free and grant asylum to the first of them,” he said.
“We had expressed the hope that Greek justice would not repeat the same mistakes with such unilateral decisions,” he added.
Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras opposes asylum for them but said they can’t be extradited under a ruling from Greece’s highest court, drawing the wrath of Turkey, with Bozdag saying, “We believed that Mr. Tsipras’ word, that he would return the eight putschists, was honorable (manly). But he didn’t return them. There is a political direction in this case,” noting that Erdogan said Tsipras told him the men would be sent back.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said Turkey won’t be kidnapping anyone from Greece and said the comments were unacceptable and designed to appease voters Erdogan is wooing before snap polls he called for June 24.
A large police detail has been allocated to guard the eight, while their place of residence is kept confidential, said Greek media reports from Kathimerini and the business newspaper Naftemporiki.
Turkey said the men were part of a plot set up by a Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, now living in Pennsylvania but they denied it and the Greek court said their lives would be in danger if they were returned.
Turkey has been holding two Greek soldiers who accidentally crossed the border on March 1 while on patrol in bad weather and Erdogan as much admitted they are hostages and bargaining chips to force the return of the Turkish soldiers.
An apparently angry Erdogan has stepped up provocations in the Aegean, sending more Turkish fighter jets to violate Greek airspace, with seven violations in 30 minutes reported on June 5 alone.