ATHENS – After a Turkish court yet again rejected release of two Greek soldiers being held in jail since they accidentally crossed the border while on patrol March 1 in bad weather, the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition’s spokesman said they are being held hostage.
“We cannot play with human lives in the game of diplomatic rivalry, because it takes us outside the bounds of what is permissible in international relations and into hostile territory,” Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said in an interview on Antenna TV.
That came after a Turkish court rejected a fifth appeal for the release of the two soldiers even though the Greek government has since declared they are posted to Turkey, removing a barrier the court said was the reason they wouldn’t be freed, that they would be flight risks.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan already has said they are bargaining chips to force the return of eight Turkish soldiers seeking asylum in Greece after fleeing a failed coup against him two years ago although they denied taking part and said they fled for their lives.
Ironically, Tzanakopoulos – who after the two Greek soldiers were taken said they would be returned in a couple of days – now has backed up with Defense Minister Panos Kammenos long ago said: that they are hostages.
Kammenos is leader of the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who are junior partners in the coalition led by SYRIZA and has frequently crossed swords with Erdogan and Turkish officials with both sides baiting each other.
Tzanakopoulos said Greece will continue to exercise “all means of political leverage, all diplomatic and legal avenues” for the soldiers’ release, he said, adding that he does not rule out a “change of stance from the Turkish government, Turkish justice and also from Mr. Erdogan.”
Greek authorities were said to be hoping that the lifting of the State of Emergency in Turkey will make it harder for Turkish authorities to continue detaining the two Greek soldiers without charge although Erdogan in winning re-election in snap polls he called on June 24 also got near-dictatorial powers.
Alternate Defense Minister Fotis Kouvelis – who has no experience in the field – told Real FM radio that Greece will keep pressing for the release of the Greek soldiers after he earlier threw up his hands and said he had no idea when or if they’d be released and could be kept indefinitely.
He said their continued detention was “a political choice by Turkey.,” indicating that Erdogan, and not the courts, will have the final say on what happens to them.” “The matter of the illegal detention of our two soldiers is part of a broader strategy of tension that Turkey will continue to pursue against Greece,” he said, with NATO – to which both belong – staying out of it.
Tsipras raised the issue with Erdogan on the sidelines of a recent meeting of the defense alliance but has been ignored, as has the EU.