Greece taking ‘greatest possible’ measures to protect ex-Turkish soldiers seeking asylum

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Turkish officers are escorted by Greek special police forces as they leave the Greek Supreme Court in Athens, after a hearing. AFP PHOTO / ANGELOS TZORTZINIS

Greece has put in place the “greatest possible” measures to protect eight Turkish commandos accused of being coup plotters after Ankara warned it was a “national duty” to do everything within its power to bring them back, the Guardian daily reported on Sunday.

A week after the men were freed from detention, Athens admitted they were under 24/7 guard at an undisclosed location for fear of retaliation.

The admission came despite mounting tensions with Ankara, which last week suspended a refugee readmission deal with Athens, arguing that the soldiers participated in the abortive coup against Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in July 2016.

Greece’s deputy defense minister, Fotis Kouvelis, told the Guardian: “We are enforcing the greatest possible measures to secure their safety in a place which for obvious reasons will remain unknown. We haven’t forgotten what happened in our region a few months ago.”

Kouvelis was referring to the enforced removal from Kosovo of six Turkish citizens also denounced as followers of US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, who Ankara has accused of orchestrating the putsch.

Tensions over the eight men, who flew into Greece on a Black Hawk helicopter a day after the failed coup, have added to an increasingly fiery campaign ahead of snap presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey on June 24.

On Monday, Turkey’s EU Minister Ömer Çelik said it was clear Athens was refusing to hand over the soldiers because it wanted to “extract secrets” from them.

Turkey has consistently argued the eight men were involved in the putsch against Erdoğan, which left 249 people dead and more than 2,000 injured.

The Greek supreme court has rejected any notion of sending the officers back, saying they would not get a fair trial in Turkey, where a purge of the military and civil establishment continues.

In April, the council of state, Greece’s highest administrative court, granted one of the eight commandos permanent asylum, despite objections by Alexis Tsipras’s leftist-led government. Similar judgments are expected to follow when verdicts are issued in the remaining cases.

The men, who deny involvement in the coup, were moved to the secret location when the 18-month period they were legally allowed to be held in detention expired last week.

Kouvelis said: “We have an independent justice system which applies EU laws, international laws. It’s not something we can ignore. We have to listen to it.”

Media reports on Sunday suggested the commandos were at risk of being abducted and assassinated. The newspaper Ta Nea reported that 80 police officers, including snipers, had been seconded to protect the Turks.

Kouvelis said air and sea violations by Turkish forces in the Aegean Sea had increased, with Turkey dispatching warships to its western shores facing Greece.

“A lot of ships have been transferred to the area and we are talking about fighter jets moving at crazy speeds, which raises the possibility of an accident,” he said.

A pair of Turkish F-16 fighter jets entered Athens’ Flight Information Region (FIR) over Lemnos and Lesvos on Monday afternoon, the Greek daily Kathimerini reported.

The two jets flew over the islet of Levitha at 24,300 feet and exited Athens’ FIR at 3.59 p.m., east of the island of Rhodes.

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