Athens stays calm over soldiers, PM complains to UN

TAGS: Diplomacy, Turkey

Fearing that the arrest of two Greek soldiers last week who inadvertently crossed the Turkish border in bad weather could lead to an extended and messy legal procedure, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras appealed to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday to mediate for their swift release and return. 

A Turkish court on Monday refused to release the two soldiers, who are charged with illegally entering a prohibited military zone. 

Speaking at an informal cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Tsipras said Turkey will “sooner or later” realize that trying to exploit a common occurrence in the border region will lead to a dead end and will not work in its favor.

It was also agreed at the meeting that Greece will maintain its low-key approach, with sources saying that Athens doesn’t want the issue to escalate to a full-blown diplomatic standoff.

Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said Greece “must respect the legal procedure that Turkey is following” and added that, even though he can’t rule it out, he does not think the issue will drag on.

He added, however, that if Turkish authorities charge the two soldiers with more than just entering a prohibited military zone, that would be “extreme.”

Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias is expected to send a verbal note to the Turkish ambassador over the issue. 

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said on Tuesday that he reported Turkey to the European Union and NATO.

For his part, New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the detention of the Greek soldiers was “unacceptable” and slammed the government for “underestimating” the seriousness of the issue as well as the tension in Greek-Turkish relations.

In a separate development, a Greek court rejected a request by Ankara for the extradition of a Turkish national of Kurdish origin who is linked to an outlawed group that is blamed for a string of suicide bombings in Turkey.

The 48-year-old Naci Ozpolat was one of nine suspects detained by Greek anti-terrorism units in November shortly before Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Greece in December.

All nine suspects have been charged in Greece for setting up and belonging to a criminal organization, dealing in explosive materials, as well as the illegal possession of firearms, smoke bombs and firecrackers.