Turkey arrests two Greek soldiers 'on espionage charges'

The Evros river separates Greece and Turkey

A Turkish court on Friday placed two Greek soldiers under arrest on espionage charges after they illegally crossed into Turkey, state media reported, in a move that risks a new flaring of tensions between Ankara and Athens. The court in the western province of Edirne ordered the pair be charged with "attempted military espionage" and "entering forbidden military territory", state news agency Anadolu said. The Greek army said the two soldiers lost their way in poor weather while patrolling the area around the Evros river that separates the two countries. The soldiers also said they got lost because of the weather conditions. Vassilis Beletsiotis, spokesman for the Greek general staff, told AFP they were not accused of spying. "The image we have is that the two soldiers are accused of entering the forbidden military zone but are not accused of attempted espionage," he said. According to Anadolu, Turkish police seized the men's rifles and the two men said in statements to the prosecutor that they took images on their mobile phones to send to senior Greek military officials. "There was no fighting and (the soldiers) are currently in Edirne," said Greek army spokesman Nikolaos Fanios, adding the pair were in good health. Greek government spokesperson Dimitris Tzanakopoulos earlier said that the case was one of "illegal entry" and said Athens expected the "imminent return" of the two Greek officers. - Uneasy allies - The two soldiers were remanded in custody which means they are to stay in prison ahead of trial, a date for which has yet to be set. Turkey and Greece are historic foes whose peoples have for centuries battled for supremacy in the Aegean region, and over the last decades have come to the brink of war on several occasions. But they have also been allies in NATO since 1952 and Athens has over the last years been one of the most enthusiastic supporters of Ankara's bid to join the European Union. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in December made the first visit by a Turkish head of state to Greece in 65 years in a symbol of more cordial ties. However the visit was overshadowed by a broadside by Erdogan in front of Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos as he called for the revision of the post World War I treaty that set Greece and Turkey's modern borders. Meanwhile, Turkish and Greek vessels have in the last weeks twice collided off Aegean islets that have been a historic flashpoint in a long-running demarcation dispute. Another festering sore is Cyprus, where the northern portion of the island is still occupied by Turkish troops following the 1974 invasion in response to an Athens-inspired coup aimed at uniting it with Greece. Tensions over Cyprus are high as Turkey vows to block any moves by the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government to exploit oil reserves off the Mediterranean island. But of most immediate concern to Ankara is the presence in Greece of suspects wanted by Turkey on charges linked to the 2016 failed coup. The Athens authorities have notably failed to hand over eight Turkish troops who escaped by helicopter on the night of the putsch, saying they would not have a fair trial at home.