A court in the Turkish city of Edirne has again turned down a release request from the lawyers of two Greek soldiers who’ve been held since accidentally crossing the border on March 1 while on patrol in bad weather, media there said.
It was the fourth time the request has been rejected and came only a few days before June 24 snap polls President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called in a bid to strengthen his mandate, having already gotten near-dictatorial powers in the wake of a failed coup against him in July, 2016.
Prospects for the release of the Greek soldiers was said to be dim indeed until after the elections with Erdogan pressing Greece to return eight Turkish soldiers seeking asylum after fleeing the attempt to overthrow him, in which they said they didn’t take part.
Greece’s highest court barred their extradition, saying their lives would be in danger with Erdogan purging civil society and the media and calling for return of the death penalty, forbidden in the European Union he wants Turkey to join.
Turkey and Greece are both members of NATO but the defense alliance chief, Jens Stoltenberg, said he wants no part of the trouble between them and hasn’t spoken out about repeated violations of Greek airspace and waters by Turkish warships and fighter jets.
The detailed Greek soldiers are being held without charges brought against them with essentially no response from the European Union nor the United States or United Nations amid fears they could be held indefinitely.
Previous instances of military personnel from either country inadvertently straying into the other’s territory along the land border separating the two NATO member-states were resolved in a matter of hours and between local commanders.
Erdogan though has essentially admitted they are – as Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said – being held as hostages and bargaining chips to force the return of the Turkish soldiers, who are under guard by 80 riot police at a military facility after being released from a maximum 18-month detention period after an Erdogan advisor said Turkey might kidnap them.
Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, spokesman for Greece’s ruling Radical Left SYRIZA, said after the Greek soldiers were taken more than three months ago that they would be released within a day or two, which didn’t happen, but he’s continued to say they’ll be released some time.