ANKARA: Turkey on Monday sent back to Russia the body of a pilot killed when his plane was shot down by the Turkish air force for allegedly violating its air space on the Syrian border, reports said.
A Russian plane carrying the body of Oleg Peshkov left Ankara’s Esenboga International Airport airport for Russia, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported, without giving further details.
His body had at the weekend been taken from Syria to southern Turkey and then flown to Ankara.
Both pilots aboard the Su-24 war plane ejected and parachuted to the ground on the Syrian side of the border after being shot down by Turkish F-16s in the November 24 incident.
Peshkov was killed in circumstances that have yet to be fully explained while the second pilot, Konstantin Murakhtin, was rescued unharmed and has already spoken to Russian media.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had at the weekend announced that the body had been handed over to Turkey from the Syrian side of the border, as Ankara seeks to limit the damage from Russia’s reaction.
Turkish officials and pro-government media have been at pains to emphasise that Peshkov’s corpse is being transferred honourably and in line with military convention.
Turkish press reports said Turkmen rebels handed over Peshkov’s body to Turkish officials in the Hatay region on the Syrian border in the early hours of Sunday.
There had then been an Orthodox Christian service for him in Hatay, which still has a Christian minority.
The corpse was then flown on Sunday afternoon to Ankara’s airport where it was greeted with a military ceremony by the Turkish army and attended by Russian embassy officials.
The incident has led to a sharp deterioration of relations, with Moscow, a major trade partner and Turkey’s largest energy supplier, on Saturday announcing a package of economic sanctions against Turkey.
“If we all act rationally, then this crisis with Russia is containable,” Turkish newspapers quoted Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was as saying Monday.
“We understand the feelings about the loss of the Russian pilot but our sensitivities about border security should also be understood,” he added.