Greece extradites two Turkish soldiers after border incident

Published 09.09.2018 19:08
Updated 10.09.2018 18:40

Greece on Sunday detained two Turkish soldiers who allegedly crossed the border and later extradited them to Turkey.

Greek authorities said two soldiers out of a group of five soldiers crossed the border while performing patrol duty.

A conversation between the two countries' defense ministries confirmed the incident.

Turkish Armed Forces said the soldiers had been extradited to Turkey soon after the incident was disclosed to the public.

The statement said the two soldiers were chasing irregular migrants when they crossed the border by mistake. The soldiers were held by Greek patrol units at around 11 a.m. local time, the statement said.

It added that the two soldiers were returned to Turkey at around 6:30 p.m. after the Turkish side held talks with the Greek authorities.

Greek authorities said two soldiers, out of a group of five, crossed the border while on patrol.

Speaking to the Associated Press (AP), an army spokesman said that the arrests took place on the Greece-Turkey border while denying Greek media reports that gunfire was exchanged during the incident.

The spokesman requested anonymity because the case is under investigation, AP said.

Previously, two Greek soldiers, Lt. Aggelos Mitretodis and Sgt. Dimitris Kouklatzis were detained by Turkey on March after being discovered by patrolling Turkish troops near the Pazarkule border gate, 5 kilometers from Edirne province, near the Greek border.

The two men, who are charged with military espionage and entering a forbidden military zone, repeated their earlier defense and said they crossed into the Turkish side of the border by mistake.

The prosecution said the pair testified they entered the Turkish side by tracking footsteps in the snow and filmed images on their mobile phones to send to higher-ranking officials.

The soldiers flew back from Turkey on a Greek government plane after being released from prison in August.

Since the Gülenist Terror Group's (FETÖ) coup attempt on July 15, 2016, tensions have continued to grow between Turkey and Greece.

Earlier this year, Greece granted asylum to three out of eight putschist soldiers who fled Turkey to the chagrin of Turkish authorities. The suspects, who hijacked a military helicopter and landed in Greece hours after the coup attempt was thwarted, were released from custody in May after a mandatory detention period of 18 months expired. They are being held "in a safe place outside Athens" until the conclusion of asylum requests, according to Greek media outlets.

FETÖ is accused of carrying out a coup attempt that killed 250 people through its infiltrators in the military. After strong public resistance helped quell the attempt, Turkey launched a nationwide crackdown and a global campaign to bring members of the terrorist group to justice.

The number of suspected members of FETÖ trying to flee to Greece increased in the same period, with more Gülenists encouraged by lax treatment of putschists seeking to cross into the country. On Monday, two former employees of Turkey's National Intelligence Directorate (MIT) who were fired for their links to FETÖ and wanted by Turkish authorities were caught by border guards in Edirne, a province bordering Greece, while they were trying to sneak into Greece.

Ankara formally requested that Greece extradite FETÖ members who were behind the coup attempt to face trial in Turkey.

Despite the Greek government's preference to extradite the eight suspects, the Greek judiciary has repeatedly denied the applications. Turkey earlier condemned rulings not to extradite coup suspects as "politically motivated." The two countries, which have a past tainted by hostilities, recently sought to improve relations and have agreements in place to fight terrorism.

Greece has repeatedly been accused by Turkey of being a haven for terrorists who have committed crimes against Turks. This year alone, Greek courts ordered the release of members of the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), which is recognized as a terrorist group by the European Union.

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