Cyprus condemns new Turkey energy drill as 'severe escalation'

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Nicosia (AFP)

EU member Cyprus on Friday accused Turkey of defying the bloc by sending another drilling ship to operate inside its waters in what it termed a 'severe escalation.'

"Cyprus strongly condemns Turkey?s new attempt to illegally conduct drilling operations in the southwest of the island," the government said in a government.

"The new planned drilling, this time round in a duly licensed block, constitutes a further severe escalation of Turkey?s continued violations of the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus," it said.

Nicosia said Turkey has sent the drill ship Yavuz inside block 7 of its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, a zone licensed to Italy?s Eni and France?s Total in an agreement signed last month.

According to the Cyprus government, the area where the Turkish vessel is operating is clearly defined under international law as Cypriot territorial waters.

"This new provocation is exemplary of Turkey?s defiance of the European Union?s and the international community?s repeated calls to cease its illegal activities," it said.

Nicosia said Turkey?s "utterly provocative and aggressive behaviour" would not deter it. "Cyprus will not yield to threats or bullying tactics of an era long gone," it said.

The waters off Cyprus have attracted other international giants such as ExxonMobil and Shell. Sizeable natural gas deposits have been discovered in three areas but have yet to be extracted.

Turkey is opposed to Nicosia?s energy exploration plans and wants a say in the development of hydrocarbons in the region.

Ankara also demands Turkish Cypriots on the divided island have their share of the profits from natural gas but argues a Cyprus solution must be found first.

Cyprus has pushed ahead with exploring for offshore energy resources despite the collapse in 2017 of UN-brokered talks to end the country's decades-long division.

Ankara already earlier this year dispatched two other drill ships inside Cyprus?s designated EEZ.

Washington and Brussels have urged Turkey to withdraw the vessels from Cypriot waters, with the EU imposing sanctions on Turkey.

Visiting UK Minister for Europe Christopher Pincher told reporters Friday: "Britain deplores any drilling in the waters close to Cyprus and supports the right of Cyprus to extract oil in its EEZ."

"Most importantly that wealth should be extracted for the benefit of all Cypriots on the island," he said after meeting President Nicos Anastasiades in Nicosia.

Cyprus aims for gas to start flowing to an LNG facility in Egypt in 2025 via pipeline, generating its first revenue from natural gas.

Turkey has had troops stationed in the country since 1974 when it invaded and occupied its northern third after a coup sponsored by the military junta then ruling Greece.