Cyprus riles Turkey with oil and gas exploration plans | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 19.08.2011
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Cyprus riles Turkey with oil and gas exploration plans

Cyprus' plans to begin exploratory drilling for oil and gas reserves in the east Mediterranean has angered Turkey. Turkish Cypriots in northern Cyprus have strongly objected to the move.

A semi-submersible oil drilling rig

The Greek Cypriot government plans to start drilling soon

A dispute is brewing on the divided island of Cyprus over plans to begin oil and gas exploration in the east Mediterranean.

The Greek Cypriot government in Nicosia is planning to start drilling in six weeks, but Turkish Cypriots in the north of the island have strongly objected. They fear any potential revenue from oil and gas will be solely for the Greek side of the island.

Turkey also claims the Turkish Cypriot community has not been represented in Cyprus' drilling agreements with its neighbors. Kudret Ozersay, chief aide to Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu, said unless Nicosia delays the start of drilling, they will start their own exploration scheme.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Marcoullis said Cyprus launched its exploration plans in line with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and that the drilling would go ahead.

"Cyprus is taking Turkey's threats seriously, and is doing everything possible to find a solution," she said.

'Benefit all Cypriots'

Solon Kassinis, director of the Cyprus Energy Services, insists all steps have been taken "in line with international law."

UN soldiers on patrol in Nicosia

A UN buffer zone divides the two sides of the island

Kassinis also dismisses claims that the Greek side would monopolize any revenue from what is discovered under the seabed.

"What we find will not only be for the Greek Cypriots," said Kassinis. "We never said something like that. It is for all legal residents of Cyprus."

His comments were echoed by the acting government spokesman Christos Christofides, who said the planned drilling is one of the most important positive developments for the island in recent years.

Christofides said it was the "sovereign right" of the Republic of Cyprus to look for natural resources. He added that Cyprus had ratified the UN's Law of the Sea - unlike Turkey.

Exploration contract

The government in Nicosia has signed a contract with US firm Noble Energy to launch exploration activities in an 800,000-acre (3,237 square kilometer) zone southeast of the island, bordering Israeli waters. Massive gas fields have been discovered under the seabed there.

The Turkish daily newspaper Hurriyet reported that Ankara has been urging the US administration to postpone the date that Noble will start exploration.

The situation, which is expected to get worse before it gets better, will add extra pressure to the ongoing attempt to reunite the island, which has been at a virtual standstill for three years.

Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, but has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded the island in response to a Greek-backed coup in Nicosia. Today, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is only recognized by Turkey.

Author: Nathan Morley, Cyprus / cb
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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