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Greece denies reports Turkey occupied border strip

Greece is expanding a fence along its border with Turkey [Getty]

Date of publication: 24 May, 2020

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Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias acknowledged the presence of Turkish forces in the area but said Greek soil had not been 'occupied by foreign forces'.
Greece on Sunday dismissed reports that Turkish soldiers had occupied a strip of Greek territory in the Evros border region, where Athens is expanding a fence to keep migrants and refugees out.

Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said allegations - picked up the the British press - that Turkish troops had occupied a patch of land that is normally submerged at this time of year on Greece's side of the border were "utterly false".

Dendias acknowledged, in an interview with Skai TV, that "a presence of Turkish forces has been observed in a strip of land where some preparatory works had been made by the Greek army" after Athens would not give Turkey the coordinates of its fence expansion in Evros in advance.

But Greece had asked Turkey "not to make any other move in the area", he said.

The Greek defence ministry had already on Saturday said that "at no time Greek soil has been occupied by foreign forces".

Turkish special forces have been present in recent weeks as the Greek army conducts preparatory work for the expansion of the border fence to prevent massive crossings from migrants. 

"We will proceed with the fence expansion. It is our constitutional obligation to protect Greek soil," Dendias said.

Tensions ran high in March when Turkey opened its borders, allowing tens of thousands of asylum-seekers to travel to the Greek border in a bid to cross into the European Union.

For days, there were skirmishes on the border as migrants trying to break through threw stones at Greek riot police who fired tear gas at them.

Turkish police also bombarded Greek forces with tear gas, and Athens accused the Turkish police of handing out wire cutters to migrants to help them break through the fence.

Greek border forces have also claimed that Turkish troops have recently fired shots into the air.

Ankara has accused Athens of beating migrants and firing live rounds at them, alleging that some died of bullet injuries.

Amnesty International said last month that two asylum-seekers were killed by Greek fire during the skirmishes. 

The human rights organisation added that a migrant woman went missing after she and her husband were separated from their six children while attempting to cross the Evros river to enter Greece. Her husband said she is presumed dead after Greek soldiers fired shots at her as she attempted to join her children on the Greek side of the river.

The Greek government has denied using undue force.

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