(Updates with comments from Greek Cypriots and Greece from pars
four to seven)
By Simon Bahceli
FAMAGUSTA, Cyprus, April 26 Turkey on Thursday
began drilling for oil and gas in breakaway northern Cyprus,
straining tensions with Greek Cypriots in a move that could
hinder UN-backed efforts to reunite the divided island, key to
Ankara's aspirations to join the European Union.
At a ceremony in northeast Cyprus, the state-run Turkish
Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) launched onshore drilling at the
3,000-metre-deep Turkyurdu-1 well in search of hydrocarbons near
the town of Trikomo, or Iskele in Turkish.
"I believe this project can be a force for peace in Cyprus,"
Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said at the ceremony.
"While energy has produced wars in other parts of the world,
here it will be a force for peace."
Greek Cypriots and their close ally Greece criticised the
move, accusing their old rivals of undermining the peace
"Actions such as this drilling undertaken by Turkey and the
Turkish Cypriot leadership display a lack of will on their part
in solving the Cyprus problem," said Cypriot government
spokesman Stefanos Stefanou.
A spokesman for the Greek foreign ministry in Athens said
the action was illegal and in contravention of UN resolutions on
the island calling on member states to respect the sovereignty,
independence and territorial integrity of Cyprus.
"This action once again highlights that the Cyprus issue is
primarily an issue of invasion and occupation," the Greek
Turkey was outraged last year when the internationally
recognised government of Cyprus licensed Texas-based Noble
Energy to explore an offshore block for natural gas in
what it said is one of the biggest finds in years.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan called the drilling "madness"
and said it would torpedo peace talks aimed at reuniting the
island. Turkey then dispatched naval ships to accompany its own
seismic research vessel to explore in waters 10 kilometres from
the Cyprus drill site.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when the Turkish
military invaded the island after a short-lived Greek Cypriot
coup engineered by the military junta then in power in Athens.
Turkey still keeps about 30,000 troops in the north and is
the only nation which recognises the self-declared Turkish
Republic of Northern Cyprus.
Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot
leader Dervis Eroglu have made little progress in negotiations
since the UN persuaded them to renew talks late last year.
The dispute has impeded Turkey's efforts to join the EU.
Frustrated by the lack of progress, Turkey has said if there
was no solution by July 1 when Cyprus takes over the European
Union presidency, it would suspend dialogue until the presidency
passes to another EU member in 2013.
Last month, Turkish Minister for EU Affairs Egemen Bagis
revived a threat to annex northern Cyprus if the current round
of peace talks failed, a possibility Turkey has previously
Many of the island's 250,000 or so Turkish Cypriots oppose
annexation, even though their economy is heavily dependent on
trade with Turkey and outright aid due to an international
embargo in place since 1974.
The island has defied decades of UN-brokered efforts at
reunification. In 2004, Greek Cypriots voted no in a referendum
to reunite the island, while the smaller Turkish Cypriot
population voted yes.
(Additional reporting by Michele Kambas in Nicosia; Writing by
Ayla Jean Yackley; editing by Keiron Henderson)