EU's Juncker urges Turkey to free Greek soldiers

Erdogan said Ankara would consider releasing Greek soldiers if Athens agreed to swap them with fugitive Turkish officers.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – European Union (EU) Commission President Jean Claude Juncker on Thursday said Turkey must release two Greek soldiers who were detained on Turkish territory last month.

The duo had crossed the land border in Thracia region extending into both countries in snowy weather.

Charges of espionage stand against them in Turkey, although they have pleaded innocent, saying they got lost in the fog.

Juncker was in Athens meeting with Greek lawmakers and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, the daily Kathimerini reported.

Addressing Greece’s Parliament, European Commission Juncker called on Ankara to stop military activities in the Aegean Sea.

Turkey “must respect international law,” he said.

PM Tsipras said Greece was remaining calm in the face of what he labeled as “dangerous provocations” from Turkey.

“We are proving that by being decisive and also calm in dealing with dangerous provocations in the Aegean by Turkey toward our sovereign rights,” Tsipras said

Tensions between the two neighboring NATO countries have reached their highest in decades due to a group of Turkish soldiers who sought refuge in Greece after a military coup in 2016 against the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan failed.

Alleging their participation in the attempted putsch, Ankara asks for their extradition from the EU member Athens, a demand unmet so far over Turkey’s deteriorating human rights record amid mounting reports of lack of a fair trial, torture, and ill-treatment in detention.

A Greek court on Thursday released on condition one of eight Turkish officers from detention, risking a strong rebuke from the Erdogan administration. He was transferred to a secret location and was kept under tight police surveillance amid fears for his safety, Greek media wrote.

Earlier this week, Erdogan suggested he would consider releasing Greek soldiers if Athens agreed to swap them with fugitive Turkish officers.

A trade-off was off the table, Greek officials, including Tsipras, stated.

Turkish claims over Aegean islands is another, and historically deeper, issue.

The two nations’ warplanes often get in dogfights over the waters of the eastern Mediterranean.

One such incident earlier this month resulted in the plunging of a Greek fighter jet into the sea, killing its pilot.

Calls by Erdogan to “update” the 1924 Treaty of Lausanne that defines his country’s borders have also been met with protestation from Greeks.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany