Row over Cyprus oil prospects

Military confrontation should be a last resort in a dispute over oil and gas exploration in the Mediterranean Sea near the divided island of Cyprus, the leader of the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus said yesterday. Mehmet Ali Talat appealed for dialogue and said his breakaway state – recognized only by Turkey – was as entitled as the Greek-Cypriot government to proceeds from any oil reserves. Tensions flared earlier this week when Turkey warned Lebanon and Egypt not to press ahead with energy exploration deals signed with the Greek-Cypriot government, a member of the European Union. «Military confrontation should be only the last resort,» Talat said in an interview with The Associated Press. «We believe that we should have our share,» he said. «We will not let our rights be eroded by the Greek-Cypriot administration.» Turkey and Greece came to the brink of war in early 1987 in an oil-drilling rights dispute in the Aegean Sea. A clash was averted after Turkey withdrew a seismic exploration ship and agreed not to test in contested waters if Greece did the same. Yesterday, the Greek-Cypriot government accused Turkey of behaving like a pirate over the dispute and said it had a sovereign right to search for oil. «If Turkey is misinterpreting the exercise of our legal and sovereign rights, what interpretation can be given to its threatening reactions?» government spokesman Christodoulos Pasiardis said in Nicosia. «The only interpretation that can be given is that Turkey feels, behaves and acts like a policeman in the area and sometimes as an unrestrained pirate of the eastern Mediterranean.» Turkish warships routinely patrol the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean, but military officials in Ankara have said that no new force had been sent around Cyprus. US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack has urged Cyprus and Turkey to refrain from any actions «that might be misinterpreted by the other side.» (AP)