The Maltese soldiers involved in a fight with civilians in Mitilini, Lesvos were constrained to defend themselves when they were attacked by Greek locals, the Armed Forces of Malta said.
The AFM said in a statement that two Maltese soldiers on Frontex duties on the Greek island were in a downtown bar early on Wednesday when they were off-duty.
For no apparent reason, Greek locals in the same bar attacked them. One of the two AFM personnel managed to extract himself from the bar, and sought the support of three other colleagues of his team, who were also off-duty, to extract their remaining team member from inside the bar, where he was having problems with the aggressors.
The Hellenic Police of Mitilini were eventually summoned and the Maltese soldiers were taken to the central station.
The soldiers were informed that the Greeks were not pressing charges and they were asked if they wanted to press charges against these locals. In view of this decision by the locals, the Maltese soldiers decided not to press charges.
The AFM said the soldiers were then later charged, in the local court, with having three batons and one can of pepper spray in their vehicle. They were also charged with damaging the hotel where they were billeted, an issue which the AFM intends to contest at the next court sitting on October 14.
The AFM said that on returning to their lodgings, its soldiers were not allowed inside by the hotel management and while they were waiting, they were again approached and attacked by a group of locals, wearing helmets and caps, and armed with bars and pepper spray as they rode on scooter bikes.
Some of the AFM personnel managed enter the hotel, while others ran in different directions.
The Mitilini police were again summoned and the Greek attackers scattered. The hotel’s owner alleged that damages were incurred to his property, and started demanding reimbursement.
The AFM said that all its personnel who were stationed on deployment on Lesvos returned to Malta early yesterday afternoon. The soldiers had been immediately recalled as soon as the army was made aware of what happened and even before their recall was requested by the Frontex director.
The army was also conducting an internal investigation to determine the true and correct facts.
“Whilst it is regretful that the incident has taken place, and which does nobody any good, it is indeed unfortunate that this has taken place.
“Headquarters AFM acknowledges and understands the requirement to ensure what Director Ilka Laitenen stated that ‘Frontex and participating member states must uphold the highest professional and ethical standard both on and off duty,’” the AFM said.
However, Greek media and online blog reports unjustifiably condemned the five Maltese soldiers, rather than the incident, the army said.
It said that the accusations made in the said reports, quoting alleged injuries to Greek nationals and various damages to the hotel they were billeted in, were being strongly contested.
“The AFM remains committed to provide Frontex the fullest information on this incident, and it shall continue assisting the Greek authorities in stemming the flows of illegal immigration in the Greek Aegean islands.”
Maltese soldiers have been participating in Frontex joint-operation “Poseidon” for these last four years, with around 80 AFM personnel deployed so far.
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