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Turkish ship begins oil exploration off Cyprus

Turkey is using its navy and air force to escort a ship conducting oil and gas exploration off Cyprus, an official said Tuesday, in the latest development in a disagreement over the ownership of the disputed island nation' s natural resources.

Cyprus is divided into a Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north. The southern government began exploratory drilling for oil and gas last week, prompting strong protests from Turkey, which doesn' t recognize the Greek Cypriot administration.

In response, Turkey signed an oil and gas exploration deal with the Turkish Cypriots and sent a Turkish research ship to the Mediterranean to start exploration. The breakaway Turkish Cypriot state is only recognized by Turkey.

"We will try all channels of peace, but we will also protect our country' s interests until the end," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said Tuesday at an unrelated ceremony to mark the delivery of the first Turkish-made corvette warship to the navy.

The Turkish research ship, Koca Piri Reis, began its exploration Monday, but Turkish and Turkish Cypriots officials refused to reveal the ship' s exact location then.
Cyprus licensed U.S.-based Noble Energy Inc. to search for oil and gas near recently discovered Israeli offshore fields that contain more than 450 billion cubic meters (15.9 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas. Cyprus is exploring areas, around 115 miles (185 kilometers) off Cyprus, near where Israel discovered gas.

Umut Yenice, the captain of the Koca Piri Reis ship, told Turkey' s state-run Anatolia news agency Tuesday that the vessel reached its destination about 50 miles (80 kilometers) off Cyprus the day before. He said the ship with 21 people aboard is in frequent contact with the escorting Turkish ships and planes.

Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said the research vessel is "where it is supposed to be," without providing details.

Cyprus Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis questioned the capability of it to carry out a search for undersea oil and gas deposits but said Cyprus was closely following the developments. "Certainly all these moves by Turkey on a military level are being monitored daily by our ministry," she said. Kozakou-Marcoullis also said government was briefing unidentified international players "who must act at the appropriate moment."

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou urged "restraint" by all countries in the east Mediterranean during a telephone conversation with Erdogan on Monday, adding that Greece backs Cyprus' activities that remain within its sovereign rights.

Greece and Turkey disagree about areas for exploration for oil and gas in the Aegean and the Mediterranean. Turkey does not accept that islands have their own continental shelf, while Greece insists they do under international law.

Source: Associated Press






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