Greece calls on EU to condemn 'illegal' drilling off Cyprus

Athens (AFP) –


Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Tuesday demanded that the European Union issue a reprimand to Turkey for its "illegal" gas exploration in Cyprus, after Ankara defied calls for it to cease drilling in the region.

The discovery of huge gas reserves in the Mediterranean has fuelled a race to tap underwater resources and triggered an escalating dispute between Turkey and Cyprus, an EU member state that also plans to ramp up its exploratory activities in the area.

Tsipras accused Ankara of "violating international law" in a call with European Council President Donald Tusk, according to a statement from his office.

He urged the Council, which is meeting in Brussels on June 20 and 21, to "strongly condemn the illegal actions of Turkey in Cyprus' exclusive economic zone".

The European Union in May urged Turkey to show restraint and respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus over the energy dispute, while the US also asked Ankara to reconsider.

Seven southern European Union countries on Friday issued a joint declaration, expressing "serious concern over actual or potential drilling activities within Cyprus' exclusive economic zone".

They urged the EU to keep an eye on the issue "and, in case Turkey does not cease its illegal activities, to consider appropriate measures in full solidarity with Cyprus".

French President Emmanuel Macron also said on Friday that the EU would "not show weakness on this matter".

Turkey, which says Cyprus' exploration plans would deprive the Turkish Cypriot minority of benefiting from the island's natural resources, insists it is drilling inside its continental shelf and complying with international law.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday said Turkey would not back down on the issue.

"We continue and will continue to search in those areas that are ours," Erdogan said during a televised speech in Istanbul.

"Someone has given an order. They will apparently arrest our boats' personnel. You will come off badly if you do so," Erdogan warned, after Cyprus reportedly issued arrest warrants for crew members of Turkey's drilling ship, Fatih, last week.

Ankara does not recognise the Cyprus government which it regards as an exclusively Greek Cypriot administration.

The island is divided between the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus and the northern third under Turkish military control since 1974, formed after Ankara's troops occupied the area in response to a coup sponsored by the Greek military junta.

Successive UN-brokered efforts to reunify the island have all failed, the most recent in Switzerland in July 2017.

Energy giants Total of France and Italy's ENI are heavily involved in exploring for oil and gas off Cyprus as well as ExxonMobil.