EU's Borrell says Turkish gas drills off Cyprus 'must stop'


Nicosia (Cyprus) (AFP)

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Thursday that "illegal" Turkish drilling for gas off the divided island of Cyprus "must stop", as he met Cypriot officials in Nicosia.

"Turkish illegal drillings must stop," Borrell tweeted after meeting the Republic of Cyprus' foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides.

The EU's top diplomat -- who is on a two-day visit to Nicosia -- said he had discussed with Christodoulides how to "bolster regional stability" and de-escalate tensions.

"Delimitation of exclusive economic zones contested by Turkey must be done in full respect of international law and good faith, as proposed by Cyprus," he added.

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

Last year, ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum made the biggest gas find off Cyprus so far, discovering a field holding an estimated five to eight trillion cubic feet.

EU member state Cyprus in January accused Ankara of "piracy" due to its repeated drilling activity inside the island's designated exclusive economic zone.

"Turkey has opted to proceed with its sixth illegal drilling in less than a year, violating the sovereign rights of Cyprus, and further destabilising the region," Christodoulides said after meeting Borrell on Thursday.

"Turkey’s actions in Cyprus's maritime zones cannot be seen in isolation... they form part of an alarming behaviour," he added.

Borrell arrived in Cyprus from Greece, with Athens itself having recently raised concerns about Turkey's approach to disputed maritime boundaries.

Speaking after Thursday's meeting, Borrell also said the EU welcomed an "invitation by the Government of Cyprus to Turkey to negotiate in good faith the maritime delimitation between their relevant coasts".

Turkey opposes unilateral exploration by the Republic of Cyprus and says Turkish Cypriots have rights to a share of the island's offshore resources.

It has also insisted that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus -- recognised only by Ankara -- itself has the right to explore around the entire island.

UN-backed talks on reunifying the island as a bizonal, bi-communal federation collapsed in July 2017 and have not resumed, in part because of the deep divisions over the offshore gas reserves.