Cyprus: Turkey Gas Search Could Hurt Peace Talks

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Cyprus warns that plans by Turkey to search for oil and gas in waters where it has already licensed companies to drill could derail reunification talks on the ethnically split island.

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus on Monday warned that plans by Turkey to search for oil and gas in waters where it has already licensed companies to drill could derail reunification talks on the ethnically split island.

"The least I can say is that negotiations, in order to produce results, cannot be conducted under such conditions of provocation," said Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides.

The government described plans by Turkey to start offshore seismic tests off the island's southern later this month as a "serious breach" of its sovereign rights as well as the rights of the drilling consortium, made up of Italy's Eni and South Korea's Kogas.

In a statement, Turkey's Foreign Ministry urged the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government to "refrain from acting as the sole owner" of the island's resources and to halt a "unilateral" fossil fuel search.

Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup aiming to unite the island with Greece. Turkey does not recognize Cyprus as a state and opposes the country's offshore energy search, claiming it disregards the rights of breakaway Turkish Cypriots to their share of potential profits.

To press the point, Turkey's military said Monday that it has dispatched a frigate and a patrol ship off Cyprus' southern coast to "observe" the consortium's Bahamian-flagged rig carrying out exploratory drilling there.

The renewed tension comes amid agreement to intensify United Nations-mediated negotiations restarted in February.

Kasoulides said Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades was mulling a number of "diplomatic, political and legal" options and will decide soon on how to respond.

The island's natural resources belong to all its people, he said, but added that potential gas riches would only be divvied up after a peace accord is reached.

The U.S. company Noble Energy and partners Delek and Avner have discovered a field off Cyprus' southern coast estimated to hold 3.6 trillion to 6 trillion cubic feet of gas.

Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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