NICOSIA (AP) — The European Union should “consider appropriate action” against Turkey if it doesn’t stop an “illegal” gas drilling bid in waters where Cyprus has exclusive economic rights, the leaders of southern EU states said Friday.
In a joint declaration issued at the end of their meeting in the Maltese capital, the leaders of France, Italy, Greece, Portugal, Spain and Malta expressed their full support for Cyprus’ sovereign rights to exploit its national resources and repeated their condemnation of Turkey’s actions.
Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades expressed his “deepest gratitude” for the leaders’ expression of solidarity with his country against Turkey’s “provocations.”
A Turkish drill ship has been anchored 41 miles off Cyprus’ western coast for several weeks, but it is unclear if it has started drilling. Turkey says it is defending its rights and those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots to the area’s energy reserves.
Cyprus’ government says Turkey is acting in blatant disregard of international law.
Although it hasn’t said so publicly, the Cypriot government has issued international arrest warrants for the ship’s crew and officials from foreign companies assisting in the drilling. A Cypriot government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said the arrest warrants number in the “double digits” and target officials “in decision-making positions.”
Turkey warned this week that it would give the “necessary response” to Cyprus over the arrest warrants.
Cyprus Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides said the Cypriot government won’t be drawn into a “publicity-oriented confrontation” with Turkey.
But he repeated on private TV station Sigma on Thursday that some drilling support companies had stopped collaboration with Turkey following actions that he said have been taken by the Cypriot government and “by companies which are lawfully authorized to operate within Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone.”
ExxonMobil, France’s Total and Italy’s Eni are among the companies licensed to search for gas inside Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone.
By MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS Associated Press