Turkish security forces took two Greek soldiers into custody on Friday. The two reportedly became “lost” in poor weather conditions and strayed across the border into Turkey’s Edirne province.
Although the incident was initially presented as benign, a Turkish court has ordered the soldiers detained on suspicion of “military espionage.”
The Greek soldiers, whom Turkey’s Yeni Safak newspaper described as a lieutenant and a sergeant, lost their bearings in bad weather conditions while patrolling the border and ended up in Turkish territory, according to a statement from the Greek military. The soldiers told Turkish authorities they got lost while they were following footprints in the snow.
“Most of the Greek-Turkish border is marked by the Maritsa River, and a fence runs along much of the land section. Some parts, however, are not clearly marked, and the area where the soldiers strayed was reportedly in woodlands near the town of Kastanies,” the Daily Sabah explained, identifying the two soldiers as Lt. Aggelos Mitredotis and non-commissioned officer Dimitros Kouklatzis.
“There was no fighting and they are currently in Edirne. The Greek foreign minister is currently arranging for their repatriation,” Greek military spokesman Nikolaos Fanios said on Friday, referring to a province in northwestern Turkey.
The repatriation process may prove to be more complicated than the two Greek soldiers would like, since tensions between Ankara and Athens are running high at the moment for reasons ranging from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s anger at Greece’s refusal to extradite accused participants in the 2016 coup attempt against him to territorial disputes in the Aegean and Mediterranean that could conceivably lead to military confrontations.
“Greek analysts express concern that the two soldiers were transferred to Andrianoupolis. They say such incidents usually end within minutes between the military authorities on either side of the border,” the Greek Reporter observed as the day wore on, naming the town where the two soldiers were detained.
Sure enough, Deutsche Welle reported on Friday afternoon that a Turkish court ordered the soldiers held on charges of “military espionage,” even as Greek officials continued to demand their release.
Daily Sabah added that the Turkish court wants to investigate “digital data” found in the possession of the Greek soldiers. According to Reuters, this could be a reference to photos the soldiers took with their cell phones and sent to senior officers as they tried to find their way back into Greek territory.
“We are in consultation with Turkish authorities for a prompt resolution of the matter. Legal processes in Turkey will be put in motion swiftly and we expect the return of the two Greeks to our country,” said Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, a spokesman for the Greek government.
“Yesterday’s incident was the result of a mistake. The two Greek officers diverged from their route because of the bad weather in the area, and found themselves, I repeat, by mistake, in Turkish territory,” Tzanakopoulos insisted.
The Associated Press reported that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is “closely following” developments in the case and is in “constant contact” with his defense and foreign ministers.