Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has demanded the release of two Greek soldiers jailed in Turkey, arguing that they should not be “pawns to blackmail”.
“Human life and human freedom are not, and should not be, pawns to power games and blackmail,” Tsipras said in a statement to Documento newspaper published on Saturday.
“In the past, we returned Turkish soldiers who crossed a few metres into Greece while on patrol. I expect the Turkish president to do the same,” he said.
The two Greek soldiers are being held in pre-trial detention in Turkey, which accuses the duo of illegally crossing the border on March 2. The soldiers said they lost their way in the fog.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported last month that “military sketches” were found on a USB stick carried by the soldiers, adding that the soldiers are accused of “espionage”.
In addition to the USB, two phones were found on Lieutenant Aggelos Mitretodis and Sergent Dimitrios Kouklatzis, along with a crypto-phone.
Athens contends that Turkish authorities have not given adequate details of the charges and on what evidence they are based.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has slammed both Greece and the European Union for pressuring Ankara for the return of the Greek soldiers, noting that his country is still awaiting the return of eight Turkish soldiers who fled an attempted coup in 2016 and are seeking asylum in Greece.
“A few days ago we caught two Greek soldiers who breached the border and there was an outcry from the whole of the West,” Erdogan said last week.
“They told us you are a large state, give them to us,” he added, apparently referring to calls by top EU officials at a summit in Varna, Bulgaria, last month for Ankara to free the Greek soldiers.
“I’m very sorry but we also have rule of law. That case is in with the judiciary. Whatever justice decides,” he said.
“You did nothing about those terrorists, you didn’t say anything about them to Mr Tsipras,” Erdogan said, apparently referring to the eight Turkish soldiers in Greece.
Greece had hoped to secure the release of the Greek soldiers before Sunday’s Orthodox Easter celebration.
The issue has strained an already tense relationship between the two NATO allies and regional rivals.
The Greek Supreme Court has conclusively blocked the extradition of the eight Turkish soldiers, arguing that they would not have a fair trial in their home country amid an ongoing purge of suspected Erdogan opponents.
Additionally, Ankara and Athens are at loggerheads over the exploration of gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.