by Aggelos Skordas
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Recep Tayyip Erdogan had their first tete-a-tete since February’s tense Athens visit by the Turkish President, on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels on Thursday. As expected the issue of the continuing detention of the two Greek servicemen in a high security prison in Edirne, Western Turkey, for some 140 days was central to the meeting of the two leaders, who also discussed other bilateral issues that separate Athens and Ankara.
In a press conference following the two-hour discussion with Erdogan the Greek Premier underlined that the case of the detained Greek army officers cannot be connected to that of the eight Turkish soldiers who fled to Greece following the failed coup attempt of July 2016 and applied for asylum. As he said, the meeting was not an easy one mainly due to these two open issues that have further escalated tension between the two neighbouring countries.
Tsipras characterised the two servicemen issue as one “of ethical, symbolic and substantive meaning in relations between the two countries”. As he said, the Turkish President once again attempted to link the two cases, although Tsipras clarified that there is absolutely no connection between them.
Greece does not welcome individuals who have participated in coups, but Greek justice is functioning in full independence, the Greek Premier revealed he told Erdogan, adding that in terms of the two Greeks, who were arrested after they accidentally strayed into Turkish territory during a routine border patrol “Greece is not asking for a favour, but only for the necessary procedures to proceed […] so they can return to their families”. Moreover, he indicated that the continuing detention of the two Greek servicemen is not “honorable” for Turkey, a neighbour and a NATO ally.
The two also discussed ways to reduce tension in the Aegean, Cyprus and the collaboration on migration, with Tsipras highlighting to Erdogan the dangers that occur from the increasing violations of Greek airspace by armed Turkish fighter jets and the consequence dogfights that in many cases take place above inhabited islands.
The Greek servicemen -a lieutenant and a sergeant- were patrolling by the only land borderline between the two countries in a heavily forested region, near Kastanies, Evros, on Thursday March 1 when they accidentally crossed the borders into Turkey due to bad weather conditions. After encountering a Turkish patrol unit, the officers were initially taken to the provincial gendarmerie command in Edirne and remain in custody since. So far Edirne’s court has rejected no less than four consecutive release request filed by the two, who have not yet been informed of the causes of their imprisonment as no charges have been pressed against them.