Two servicemen released from Turkey return to Greece

Li Jiayao

ATHENS, Aug. 15 (Xinhua) -- The two Greek servicemen who had been detained in Turkey since March after accidentally crossing the border returned to Greece in the early hours Wednesday.

Following an order by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Greek officials traveled to Edirne, Turkey, to bring Turkish Angelos Mitretodis and Dimitris Kouklatzis back home.

At Thessaloniki airport in northern Greece, the two military men were warmly welcomed by their families, government officials and Chief of the Hellenic Army Alkiviadis Stefanis.

"We wish to say 'thank you' to all those who have supported us. Thank you very much," Mitretodis said in a short statement to Greek public broadcaster ERT.

Following the welcome ceremony at the airport, Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos sent a message in a statement that the two neighboring countries can cooperate in peace to build a future for the two peoples.

Kammenos also invited his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar to visit Greece.

Mitretodis and Kouklatzis had been detained in Edirne in Turkey since early March after crossing the border amid bad weather conditions, and the detainment of the two servicemen had further soured relations between Athens and Ankara.

The two men allegedly insisted that this was not a case of attempted espionage and they had entered Turkey by mistake, following footprints which they had located on the Greek side.

The Edirne court ruled on Tuesday that there was no evidence of espionage and grounds to detain them any longer and order their release from jail until the start of their trial on charges of illegally entering a military zone, Greek national news agency AMNA reported, citing Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency.

Prime Minister Tsipras welcomed the ruling of the Turkish court as a positive step for bilateral ties, and provided the jet he uses on official foreign visits to bring the two servicemen back.

"The release of the two Greek servicemen from jail is an act of justice which will contribute in boosting friendship, good neighborly ties and stability in the region," said the Greek prime minister in an e-mailed statement on Tuesday.

Despite being North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, Turkey and Greece have a strained relationship over disputes in the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas regarding islets and gas drilling rights as well as over Greece's refusal to extradite eight Turkish soldiers suspected of involvement in a coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016.

Related News