NICOSIA – A Turkish drone on Cyprus has heightened tension over Turkish ships drilling for energy off the coast with fears of a conflict as the United Nations hasn’t intervened and hopes for reunification talks off the table for now.
The drone was sent to a base on the northern third of the island that’s been occupied since an unlawful 1974 invasion and where Turkey keeps a 35,000-strong army as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stepped up provocations in the Aegean and East Mediterranean.
Turkish warships are also in the region near Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ,) parts of which Turkey doesn’t recognize as it sent drill ships to hunt for oil and gas near where the island’s legitimate government has licensed foreign companies, including the US’ ExxonMobil.
A Turkish military official said the drone would escort its drilling ships., the BBC said. There are two – the Fatih and Yavuz – in the area, despite strong criticism from Cyprus and the European Union which imposed only soft sanctions.
The EU has been reluctant to get tougher, fearing Erdogan will make good on his threat to send to the bloc through Greek islands millions more refugees and migrants who went to Turkey first fleeing war and strife in their homelands.
Cyprus, Greece and Israel are also exploring for gas and in July began an East Mediterranean Gas Forum that also includes Egypt, Jordan, Italy and the Palestinian Authority but excludes Turkey, which claims part of the Cypriot EEZ.
With the potential for an energy bonanza off the island, Turkey is keen to cash in and, along with the Turkish-Cypriot self-declared republic that has no recognition worldwide rejected an offer by Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades to share 30 percent of any revenues.
Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriots want a say in the licensing of foreign companies as the battle over energy has also derailed for now any hopes of resuming reunification talks that collapsed in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana over Turkey’s insistence on keeping an army there and wanting the right to militarily intervene again.
Fighting back, Turkey signed an agreement with Libya dividing the seas between them, including off Cyprus as well as the major Greek islands of Rhodes and also Crete, where Erdogan said his country will soon start drilling, raising worries about a conflict.
The Anadolu news agency said the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone took off from an airbase in Dalaman, Turkey, and touched down Dec. 16 at the airport in Gecitkala — known as Lefkoniko in Greek, on Cyprus.
Kudret Ozersay, the Turkish-Cypriot self-declared foreign minister recognized only by Turkey, told reporters that the Turkish deployment would be limited to unarmed drones as there was “no need” for using armed drones.
The Turkish-Cypriot self-declared prime minister Ersin Tatar said there was an “urgent need” to address the security concerns of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots in the eastern Mediterranean while Cyprus Defense Minister Savvas Angelides called the move an “additional factor contributing to instability” in the region, hurting efforts aimed at reunifying the country.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier his country could use its military forces to halt gas drilling in waters off Cyprus that it claims as its own and it “Has the right to prevent” any unauthorized drilling in waters that it says fall within its own continental shelf.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)