NEWS

Turk denies Cyprus offensive

Athens said yesterday it had no reason to believe that Turkey had dispatched military warships to the Mediterranean as a show of force against Cyprus over an oil exploration row. Reports on Turkish television, saying that Ankara had sent ships into international waters, «have not been confirmed,» government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos told reporters. These reports were also denied in Ankara by Turkey’s military chief of staff, Yasar Buyukanit, who said there were some Turkish warships in the eastern Mediterranean but that they were on routine patrol. «We always have warships on duty in the Aegean and Mediterranean; this is nothing new,» he said. «There is no need to send any new warships,» he added. Nicosia was guarded in its reaction. «We are monitoring the situation,» said Alexandros Zenon, a senior Cypriot Foreign Ministry official. «The behavior of Turkey over the past few days shows what a destabilizing factor it is in a region which requires stability,» he said. Turkey on Tuesday warned Lebanon and Egypt not to press ahead with oil and gas exploration deals signed with Cyprus, insisting that Turkey and Turkish Cypriots also had rights in the region. Washington yesterday expressed its concern about the row, saying it intensified the need for a swift solution to the Cyprus problem. US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack stressed that the US government «recognized the Republic of Cyprus as a sovereign state» but believed that any exploration off the island should be conducted in a way that does not jeopardize the prospects of reunifying the island. McCormack did not elaborate on this point but called on Greek and Turkish Cypriots to implement United Nations proposals of two-tier exploratory talks.