ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece will not extradite eight Turkish soldiers who fled there after a failed 2016 coup attempt against President Tayyip Erodogan but an offer to try them in Athens is still open, the justice minister said on Tuesday.
Turkey says the soldiers are traitors and coup plotters and the issue has further strained relations between the two NATO allies who are at odds over issues ranging from jet flights over the Aegean Sea to ethnically split Cyprus.
Turkey, whose Deputy Justice Minister Bilal Ucar visited Athens on Tuesday, raised a new extradition request with Greek authorities, Greek court sources said, underscoring the importance Ankara attaches to the issue.
Greece’s Supreme Court has previously ruled out extradition.
Greek Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis told reporters he had discussed the case of the eight soldiers with Uçar in Athens.
“Naturally, the case of the eight was discussed,” he said. Greece’s top court has rejected Turkey’s request for the soldiers’ extradition and, therefore, they would not be sent back, he said.
“The legal framework was presented from our side and it was hopefully fully understood by the Turkish side,” Kontonis said.
“... The options are clearly stated in the Greek penal code, so therefore it is at Turkey’s discretion to take the appropriate legal steps,” he added, referring to the possibility of a trial taking place in Athens.
The eight men - three majors, three captains and two sergeant majors - flew to Greece by helicopter on July 16 in 2016, saying they feared for their lives. They requested asylum.
Turkey has accused Athens of harbouring coup conspirators. Greece denies this and says its justice system is independent of its politicians.
Reporting by Constantinos Georgizas, Renee Maltezou and Michele Kambas; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Alison Williams