Turkey warns Cyprus against offshore gas drilling

Turkey warned Thursday it will declare a border on the continental shelf if the island of Cyprus proceeds with offshore oil and gas drilling activities.

The Foreign Ministry?s announcement came a day after Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias announced that US firm Noble Energy will soon begin exploratory drilling to confirm deposits beneath the sea bed off Cyprus? southern coast despite Turkey?s attempts to prevent such a move.

The undersea boundary has been among the most contentious issues in Greek-Turkish relations, with each country trying to mark out where on the continental shelf it can exploit seabed oil and mineral deposits in the Aegean Sea.

A move by Turkey to declare such a border would aggravate relations with Greece and Cyprus, which is divided into an EU-member Greek south and a breakaway Turkish north.

Turkey does not recognize Cyprus as a sovereign country and strongly objects to the Greek Cypriot search for mineral deposits inside the island?s exclusive economic zone. It insists that Cyprus has no right to go ahead with the search before a settlement to reunify the divided island can be reached.

Turkey?s warning also coincides with expected deployment of Turkish warships in the east Mediterranean over Israel?s refusal to apologize for the killing of nine Turkish activists on an aid ship that attempted to break the blockade of Gaza last year.

Christofias didn?t specify a date for the start of drilling, which officials have said will begin early next month.

Turkish and Turkish Cypriot officials met in Ankara Thursday and agreed to conclude ?a continental shelf delimitation agreement? between them if Cyprus does not stop plans to start drilling activities. Turkish diplomats and energy officials will travel to the island on Friday for further talks, the ministry added.

Turkey believes the Greek Cypriot search would damage long-running talks aimed at reunification. The Greek Cypriot government says the search is its sovereign right and Turkish Cypriots could share the potential bounty once a peace accord is signed.

Cyprus was split into a Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north in 1974 when Turkey invaded the island. Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, but only the south enjoys the membership?s benefits.

The island?s northern part declared its independence in 1983 but it is recognized only by Turkey, which maintains 35,000 troops there. [AP]

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