April 2, 2018 / 1:46 PM / 7 months ago

Greece says Turkey may be holding two soldiers for political gain

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece said on Monday that Turkey appeared to be seeking some political leverage by continuing to hold two of its soldiers without trial for a month since they crossed a land border between the two countries.

The border guards were detained after crossing the frontier in a heavily forested area in north-eastern Greece in bad weather on March 1.

“It appears that Turkey - and this was one of our concerns from the outset - wants to use this for political purposes,” said Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos.

The rhetoric between the two countries has soured in recent years, and since eight soldiers fled to Greece in the wake of an aborted coup in Turkey in July 2016, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly accused Greece of harbouring ‘coupists’.

He has also accused Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of reneging on a promise to swiftly send the eight back.

Greece has said its two soldiers crossed into Turkey by mistake while on foot patrol in bad weather. Turkish courts have ordered their detention on suspicion of illegal entry and attempted military espionage.

“A month later and we don’t even have charges by the Turkish judiciary against the two Greek soldiers, something which I think is crossing the line,” Tzanakopoulos told Real FM, an Athens radio station.

Greece and Turkey have a host of historical grievances, from ethnically divided Cyprus to mineral and airspace rights in the Aegean Sea.

While there has been no clear suggestion that the cases involving the two sides’ soldiers are connected, there has been plenty of speculation. Tzanakopoulos said, however, that the two matters were “totally unsimilar”.

Greek courts have now rejected three times Turkey’s demands that the eight Turkish soldiers be extradited.

“The rule of law prevails in Greece, which has a Prime Minister who respects and is familiar with Greek judicial practise, and not a Sultan who can make promises on their (judicial) rulings,” a statement from Tsipras’s office said on Sunday.

Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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