Oil plans fuel rise in tension

Cyprus’s plans to launch oil and gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean has triggered strong opposition from rival Turkish Cypriots, who say it could revive tensions on the ethnically partitioned island. The internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot government is to open tenders for offshore licensing agreements on February 15, the first of its kind. Turkish Cypriots, who run an unrecognized breakaway state in northern Cyprus, say Greek Cypriots are claiming all the potential benefits for themselves. «We are partners in everything that goes on in Cyprus and will not allow our interests to be harmed,» Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat was quoted as telling the Cyprus Dialogue weekly newspaper yesterday. Cyprus signed agreements with Egypt in 2005, and Lebanon in early January delineating the sea boundaries between them. There are 11 offshore blocks that fall in Cyprus’s territory, and companies will be asked to bid for seismic data charted from the area when tenders open next month. Previous studies have suggested the seas around Cyprus could contain unproven reserves of between 6 and 8 billion barrels of crude with an estimated value of $400 billion. Authorities say the preliminary data gives «encouraging» signs of hydrocarbons on the Mediterranean seabed. Talat said he had communicated the unease of Turkish Cypriots about the agreements to Lebanon and Egypt. «If Lebanon and Egypt decide to put into force those secret agreements, they must know this will raise tensions,» he said. There is no oil or gas exploration in the immediate vicinity of Cyprus, reliant on imported fossil fuels which meet some 92 percent of its energy needs. Cyprus has been tightlipped about its hydrocarbon exploration plans for months, citing reasons of national interest. «The Republic of Cyprus is a sovereign state, a member of the UN and the EU, and its actions are within the sovereign rights of this state,» Greek-Cypriot Commerce Minister Antonis Michaelides said. (Reuters)

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