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Turkey Warns Military Force to Protect Drillships off Cyprus

Αssociated Press

FILE- A Turkish police officer patrols the dock, backdropped by the drilling ship 'Yavuz' scheduled to be dispatched to the Mediterranean, at the port of Dilovasi, outside Istanbul, Thursday, June 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

NICOSIA - Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu fired a shot across the bow of anyone who would try to stop his country's drillships from operating in Cypriot waters, indicating military force would be used.

Cavusoglu told the pro-government A Haber news channel that Turkey “has the right to prevent” any unauthorized drilling in waters that it says fall within its own continental shelf. Asked specifically if Turkey could use military means to stop such drilling, Cavusoglu said “of course.”

Ships from the US Sixth Fleet are in the region near where the American energy company ExxonMobil is drilling under a license given by the legitimate government of the island where Turkey has occupied the northern third since an unlawful 1974 invasion.

The Italian company Eni also is operating after one of its ships was scared off previously by Turkish warships in the region who warned the vessel to turn around or be sunk so Cavusoglu's rhetoric has raised fears of a conflict with the Italian Navy sending a frigate to the seas there.

Texas company Noble is also off Cyprus as is the French company Total. Cyprus' Defense Ministry announced that it will conduct joint naval maneuvers with France and Italy Dec. 12 off the island nation's southern coast.

Turkey doesn't recognize parts of Cyprus' Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) nor the United Nations Laws of the Sea – unless in Turkey's favor as it invoked the law to claim parts of Cypriot waters and has had ships drilling in defiance of Cyprus, Greece, the United States and ignoring soft European Union sanctions.

The tension has ended, for now, any hope of resuming talks to reunify the island just as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had spoken to Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci separately to see if the negotiations could begin again.

The last round of talks collapsed in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Akinci said a 35,000-strong army on the occupied side would never be removed and as they demanded the right of military intervention.

Guterres has ignored repeated entreaties from Anastasiades to get involved even as Turkey has become bolder and defied international law in going full speed ahead on the drilling, rejecting the Cypriot President's offer to give Turkish-Cypriots 30 percent of any energy revenues.

Part of the area that Turkey claims are waters where Cyprus has exclusive economic rights and where companies including France's Total and Italy's Eni are licensed by the east Mediterranean island nation to jointly carry out drilling.

A consortium made up of the two companies is licensed to conduct exploratory drilling in seven of Cyprus' 13 blocks that make up Cyprus' EEZ.. The consortium has announced that it would proceed with a new round of exploratory drilling in the new year.

Other licensed companies looking for hydrocarbons inside Cyprus' zone include ExxonMobil with partner Qatar Petroleum as well as a consortium made up of Texas-based Noble energy, Dutch Shell and Israeli Delek.

Turkey says its claim to a large swath of the Mediterranean is bolstered by an agreement it signed with Libya's U.N.-recognized government that delineates the two countries' maritime borders, which Greece denounced as unlawful.

Greece, Egypt and Cyprus, which lie between the two geographically, have denounced the deal as being contrary to international law, and Greece expelled the Libyan ambassador, drawing fire from Turkey.

Cyprus, which got international arrest warrants for the crews of the Turkish ships but didn't enforce them, said it's it's launching legal action at the International Court of Justice at the Hague against Turkey's violations of its sovereign rights. In July, Turkey dispatched warship-escorted drill ships to carry out exploratory drilling inside the Cypriot economic zone, including an area where the Eni-Total consortium has drilling rights.

Turkey doesn't recognize ethnically split Cyprus as a state and claims 44% of its economic zone as its own. It says it's acting to protect its interests and those of Turkish-Cypriots in Cyprus' breakaway north that only Turkey recognizes.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)