Friday, September 16, 2011

UN urges calm over Cyprus-Turkey gas row

The UN stepped into calm tempers on Friday after Turkey threatened divided Cyprus to put off drilling for natural gas or it will press ahead with exploration plans off the island’s Turkish-held north.

“It should be understood that natural resources, if they are discovered, would be for the benefit of all Cypriots — Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots — under the framework of a federal united Cyprus,” said UN chief of mission Lisa Buttenheim after officiating at peace talks between Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu.
“The United Nations would appeal to all involved to resolve this matter in a peaceful manner and look beyond the issues to the potential benefits that a united Cyprus can bring,” she told reporters.
The UN is worried that the energy row — which also involves Greece and Israel — could derail Cyprus peace talks that are faltering after three years of painstaking negotiations.
Turkey threatened on Thursday to sign a continental shelf delimitation agreement with northern Cyprus if the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government moves ahead with gas exploration plans, the foreign ministry said.

The announcement came after a technical meeting at the Turkish foreign ministry with a delegation from the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognised only by Ankara.
“As a result of the meeting, it has been agreed that Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus will conclude a continental shelf delimitation agreement if the Greek Cypriot administration proceeds with offshore drilling activities in the south of the island,” the ministry said.
Officials from the Turkish energy and foreign ministries held further meetings in northern Cyprus on Friday.
A statement issued by the Cyprus foreign ministry said any deal between Ankara and the TRNC would be “illegal and inconsistent with international law”.
“The Turkish announcement is yet another provocative act which is contrary to international law, both customary and conventional, and, in general to international norms,” said a foreign ministry statement issued Friday.
“Instead of continuing with its threats and illegal acts, Turkey must convince the Turkish-Cypriot leadership to demonstrate goodwill at the negotiating table so that a solution to the Cyprus problem may be reached soon,” it added.
Cypriot government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said Nicosia had “strong” international backing for its sovereign right to search for hydrocarbon deposits and would proceed to do so despite the threats.
Turkey has repeatedly called on the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus to postpone its gas exploration, saying the Greek side has no right to do so while the island remains split, thus leaving the Turkish north out of the picture.
Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974, when Turkish troops occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-engineered coup in Nicosia aimed at union with Greece.
Cyprus says its hydrocarbon search is to the benefit of all Cypriots. It has also ratcheted up the rhetoric as Cyprus and Israel seek further cooperation in the exploration and export of natural gas.
On Tuesday, President Christofias accused Turkey of being a regional “troublemaker,” saying it is hindering the Mediterranean island’s search for undersea gas.
Cyprus has protested to the United Nations and the European Union over Turkey’s behaviour.
US energy firm Noble is expected to start exploratory drilling before the beginning of October with its oil rig in place on block 12 off the island’s southern coast

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