Cyprus oil row heating up

Cyprus appears to be headed for a showdown with Turkey over Nicosia’s plans to begin oil and gas exploration in the east Mediterranean after Ankara said yesterday it was «determined» to defend its position. Nicosia wants to issue exploration permits for a sea area covering 70,000 square kilometers south and southwest of the island later this year. The deadline for companies to submit their applications is August 16 and as the deadline approaches, tension between Ankara and Nicosia appears to be growing. «Turkey is determined to protect its legal rights in the east Mediterranean,» said Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Levent Bilman. «Turkey believes it is useful to once again remind that attempts by the Greek-Cypriot administration to delineate the sea boundaries cannot be accepted and that Turkey also has legitimate rights and authorities in sea basins west of Cyprus,» added the diplomat. Bilman’s comments sparked concern in Nicosia, as he referred to the area west of 32 degrees longitude, part of which is included in the section that Cyprus is seeking to explore. Nicosia has appealed for the support of international organizations on the issue. The Cypriot government has written to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to defend its right to explore for hydrocarbons after Ankara wrote to the UN chief claiming that Nicosia did not represent the entire island. Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis insisted yesterday that Nicosia would defend its rights. «We are fully in line with the framework of international law and with the law of the sea,» she said. Government spokesman Vassilis Palmas said that Cyprus was monitoring Turkey’s actions but denied claims that Turkish vessels had entered Cypriot territorial waters. «When and if we feel that our rights are violated, then we will make the necessary representations to international organizations on this issue,» Palmas said.