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Turkish Driver Who Crossed Border Held in Greece

THESSALONIKI — Greek authorities say they have detained a Turkish civilian at the country’s border with Turkey for allegedly entering Greece illegally in an excavator, adding to the drama surrounding Turkey holding two Greek soldiers and demanding the return of eight Turkish soldiers seeking asylum in Greece.

Police said Greek soldiers detained the man on an unfenced stretch of the border in northeastern Greece’s Kastanies district after he had reportedly been about 10 meters (32 feet) inside Greece.

It was in the same area that the Greek soldiers were arrested after accidentally crossing into Turkey while on patrol during bad weather and a region where Turkey lets human traffickers send refugees and migrants into Greece.

According to still unconfirmed press reports, the man is a municipal worker employed by the nearby city of Edirne, where the Greek soldiers are jailed. He was reportedly riding a tractor and clearing fields in the vicinity when he strayed into Greek territory.

There have in the past been a number of such incidents, including when soldiers from both countries stepped across the border before being quickly released, but with Erdogan stepping up provocations in the Aegean and facing the re-election polls, Greek officials are anxious he will also increase his populist rhetoric.

The Greek soldiers have been in a Turkish prison without charges ever since, straining relations between the two NATO allies. Turkish officials have linked their fates with eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece in 2016 after a failed military coup in which they said they took no part.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Greek soldiers essentially – echoing what Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said – hostages and bargaining chips to force the return of the Turkish soldiers, whose extradition has been barred by a Greek court.

The Turkish soldiers said they fear for their lives if sent back with Erdogan having purged civil society and the military and gaining near-dictatorial powers and now seeking to pump up his popularity after he called snap elections for June 24.

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