ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey arrested two Greek soldiers Friday for allegedly entering a Turkish military zone and on suspicion of attempted espionage, the country’s state-run news agency reported. The development is likely to aggravate the already strained relations between the neighboring countries.
Greece said the two soldiers on a patrol of the Greek-Turkish border accidentally strayed into Turkey Thursday because of bad weather. Heavy snow and fog had been reported in the area. A court in Edirne, in northwestern Turkey, ordered the pair arrested after they were questioned, Anadolu Agency reported.
The Turkish news agency said the soldiers — a lieutenant and a sergeant — told Turkish authorities they had followed footsteps in the snow that accidentally led them into Turkish territory. They also allegedly took images of the area to send to their superiors, Anadolu said.
A river marks most of the border between Turkey and Greece, and a fence runs along much of the land section. However, some parts aren’t clearly marked, and the soldiers reportedly crossed over in woodland.
Earlier Friday, the Greek army said Greek and Turkish authorities were in contact and undertaking procedures to return the soldiers to Greece. A Greek government official said Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was “closely following” developments in the case and was in “constant contact” with the Greek defense and foreign ministers.
Greece and Turkey are NATO allies, but their bilateral relations are often strained over an array of territorial disputes.
Turkey also has been angered by recent Greek court decisions not to extradite eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece following a failed military coup attempt in Turkey in 2016. The eight deny any involvement in the failed coup, and Greek courts have ruled they would be at risk of not receiving a fair trial if returned to Turkey.
Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, speaking before Anadolu reported the arrests, said the return of the two servicemen who had accidentally entered Turkey was a “pure formality.”
“We are in communication with Turkish authorities to swiftly settle the issue,” Tzanakopoulos said.
Asked whether Greece was worried that the government in Ankara could use the Greek soldiers to secure the extradition of servicemen who fled Turkey, Tzanakopoulos said: “I have heard various scenarios since this morning about possible negotiations the Greek government could enter with Turkey on possible exchanges. These are spy and conspiracy scenarios that do not merit comment.”