Greece Mulls Turkey’s Demand for Soldiers Who Fled Country

  • Tsipras told Erdogan asylum request processing will be brief
  • Two countries’ foreign ministries are working closely

Greece’s government vowed to respond as soon as possible to a demand from Turkey to return eight soldiers who fled their country in an army helicopter and sought asylum during an attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told Erdogan the process of examining the asylum requests of the soldiers will be “brief,” in a telephone call late Saturday. Tsipras also told Erdogan Greece will abide by international law and respect human rights.

Turkish military helicopter at Alexandroupolis airport July 16.

Photographer: Sakis Mitrolidis/AFP via Getty Images

While their involvement in the revolt probably makes them unfit for asylum, a decision has been delayed because Greece must follow national and international laws on thoroughly examining all requests, said two people familiar with the negotiations who asked not to be named in line with policy.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu asked for the return of the escaped soldiers, according to Turkey’s NTV. Cavusoglu and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias have been in constant communication, working in a “good atmosphere,” the Greek foreign ministry said Saturday in an e-mail.

Relations between the two nations have been strained in the past, though Tsipras was quick to condemn the coup attempt in the early hours of Saturday, backing Erdogan’s government. Erdogan thanked Tsipras and his government for their stance in the call, according to Tsipras’s press office.

Turkish authorities began rounding up military officers after the failed coup during which tanks blockaded roads, soldiers fought with police and the parliament in Ankara was bombarded. More than 2,800 military personnel were arrested as the government assumed control.

A Turkish army helicopter asked for permission to make an emergency landing in Alexandroupolis in northern Greece earlier Saturday. Eight men in Turkish army apparel were arrested by Greek authorities and immediately requested political asylum. The men had removed their insignias, making it hard for Greek authorities to identify their rank, Greek state-run ERT TV reported.

Police stand by as demonstrators protest outside of Alexandroupolis.

Photographer: Sakis Mitrolidis/AFP via Getty Images

Greece, while obliged to go through all procedures dictated by national and international law to examine asylum requests, is seriously taking into account that the seekers are accused of being involved in the uprising, according to an e-mail from the foreign ministry.

Greece is also working closely with Turkish authorities to return the helicopter, Greek government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili said in an e-mail.

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