Mar 20 2018

Pressure builds over detained Greek soldiers and Cyprus gas quarrel

Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos criticised Turkey for its detention of two Greek soldiers who strayed across the border as “reminiscent of Midnight Express,” according to a report by Greek newspaper Kathimerini.

The comment refers to a 1978 film directed by Alan Parker that paints a grim image of the brutal conditions endured by a U.S. drug smuggler in a Turkish prison. The film tarnished Turkey’s image for decades, said Kathimerini.

The soldiers were arrested by Turkey on Mar. 2 and are being held on espionage charges. Greece says they strayed onto Turkish territory during a patrol due to adverse weather conditions, and Kammenos denied that Turkey had offered their return in exchange for eight Turkish officers seeking asylum in Greece after the failed 2016 military coup.

Meanwhile, in another of the sources of tension between Turkey and its Greek neighbours, the Italian Ambassador to Cyprus has vowed that the Italian energy company Eni would remain in the country and “continue its planning on the basis of its contractual obligations.”

The ambassador referred to Eni’s agreement with Cyprus to conduct gas exploration in the waters around the island, where recent explorations have discovered massive gas reserves.

Turkey has opposed the deal and rejected the Republic of Cyprus’s right to exploit resources which it says would infringe on the rights of Turkish Cypriots, who inhabit the north of the island in a republic recognised only by Turkey.

Turkish naval vessels have blocked an Eni exploration vessel from conducting exploratory drilling near Cyprus twice this year.