Turkish worker detained by Greeks on border

A Turkish digger operator has been detained by Greek soldiers on the Turkish-Greek border while working in the buffer zone between the two countries, Turkish news agency Doğan reported on Wednesday.

38-year-old excavator operator Musa Alerik, who is employed by the northwest Turkish city of Edirne’s municipality, had been sent to assist in work on a well near the customs building on the Turkish side of the border.

“There are questions over whether the driver (Alerik) crossed the Greek border as he was heading away from the Turkish side towards the Greek side, across our buffer zone. At that point, as he was manoeuvring to return, he was detained by (Greek) officials,” said Edirne Deputy Mayor Selçuk Çakır.

The digger has been impounded and moved to the Greek customs area, and Alerik transported to the northeast Greek city of Orestiada, said Çakır.

The detention of a Turkish citizen for an apparently minor border infringement invites obvious comparisons to the case of two Greek soldiers who were arrested in March after crossing the border during a patrol, and have been imprisoned pending trial since then.

Greek authorities insist that the soldiers crossed the border accidentally due to adverse weather conditions, and say that such border infringements are a relatively frequent occurence that is usually resolved civilly.

In this case, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said, the soldiers are being held as hostages for the extradition of eight Turkish servicemen who sought refuge in Greece after the failed July 2016 coup attempt. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s statements linking the two issues have further aroused speculation around the use of the Greek soldiers in a form of “hostage diplomacy.”

Edirne Deputy Mayor Çakır downplayed the possibility that Alerik’s detention had been a Greek “retaliation,” saying that he was not well-placed to comment but that he thought of the incident as a misunderstanding.

Çakır added that the Edirne regional governor was working on the issue, but that they had yet to receive any information from the Greek side.