Greece rejects asylum requests by three Turkish soldiers

By Renee Maltezou ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece has rejected asylum requests from three of a group of eight Turkish soldiers who fled there after the failed coup attempt in Turkey in July, police sources said on Wednesday. Turkey has formally sought the men's extradition, calling them "traitors" and "terrorist elements". The soldiers deny involvement in the attempt by elements of the Turkish military to topple President Tayyip Erdogan. The eight Turkish soldiers flew a Black Hawk helicopter to northern Greece on July 16 and asked for asylum. But they were arrested and received two-month suspended jail terms on charges of illegal entry into Greece. A police official said three of the soldiers failed to furnish Greek authorities with sufficient evidence to counter accusations that they were involved in the coup. "They could not refute the evidence submitted by Turkish authorities on their participation in the events of July 15," the source said, referring to the date of the coup attempt. The three would appeal against the asylum rulings, defense lawyer Stavroula Tomara said. It was not immediately clear when rulings for the other five soldiers might be delivered. "We are under the impression that the ruling was predetermined. I have observed illegalities and irregularities ... I have stressed this to the authorities in writing but they have not shown any interest," Tomara said. The eight Turks have said that their lives would be in danger if they were forcibly repatriated. They said they had no role in the coup and that they had fled Turkey when their helicopter came under fire. The soldiers have been kept in protective custody pending the outcome of their asylum applications. Three of the eight are majors, three are captains and two are sergeant-majors. The case has underscored historical tensions between Greece and Turkey, which are both members of NATO but came to the brink of war 20 years ago over an uninhabited islet in the Aegean Sea. (Reporting by Renee Maltezou; writing by Michele Kambas; editing by Mark Heinrich)