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Greece Says Court Decision Not to Extradite Turkish Soldiers Must Be Respected

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, right, answers a question during a press conference with his Turkish counterpart Binali Yildirim after their meeting in Athens, June 19, 2017.

A court ruling to not extradite eight Turkish soldiers who fled to Greece following the failed coup attempt last year must be respected, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Monday.

His comments came at a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart Binali Yildirim in Athens.

"The Greek justice system has ruled on this issue ... and this decision must be fully respected," Tsipras said in response to a question.

Turkey alleges the men were involved in efforts to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last July and has repeatedly demanded they be sent back.

The soldiers fled to Greece in a military helicopter last year as the coup against Erdogan unfolded.

Greek courts have blocked two extradition requests by Ankara, drawing an angry rebuke from Turkey and highlighting the often strained relations between the NATO allies, who remain at odds over issues from territorial disputes to ethnically-split Cyprus.

"We would like Greece to extradite those who clearly staged a coup against our nation," Yildirim said. "We respect the judiciary's decision, but we do not want these putschists to strike a blow to Turkish-Greek relations," he said.

Monday's meeting was held against the backdrop of a fresh reunification bid in Cyprus, divided since a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup.

The two countries and Britain will participate in peace talks along with the two estranged Cypriot sides in Switzerland on June 28. Mediators are seeking an accord on security arrangements in a post-settlement Cyprus, if the sides agree on a peace deal.

Turkey has some 30,000 troops in northern Cyprus, a contentious point for Greek Cypriots who want their withdrawal.

Yildirim said Greece and Turkey had decided to "contribute in every positive way" to a Cyprus settlement.

"The solution of the Cyprus issue should guarantee the security and future of Turkish and Greek people living on the island," he said.

Under a 1960 treaty, Britain, Turkey and Greece can intervene in Cyprus in the event of a breakdown of constitutional order. Greek Cypriots want the system dismantled and a withdrawal of troops, while Turkish Cypriots want some Turkish guarantees to continue.