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Cyprus Begins Offshore Drilling Despite Turkey Warnings

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Cyprus has begun exploratory offshore gas and oil drilling in the Mediterranean despite warnings from Turkey.

Cypriot energy chief Solon Assigns said Monday U.S. firm Noble Energy has started drilling inside Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone south of the island, close to Israeli waters. Cyprus has commissioned Noble Energy for the project, which has been operating in the area off Israel’s coast since 1998.

Turkish Energy Minister Tamer Yield warned earlier Monday that his country would start oil and gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean escorted by the Turkish navy next week, if Cyprus presses ahead with its drilling plans.

Turkey’s government does not recognize Cyprus, which has been divided since 1974 between a Turkish-controlled north and a Greek Cypriot south.

The Greek Cypriot government announced last month it is planning to begin exploration of oil and gas reserves off the island’s coast. Turkey questions the Cypriot government’s jurisdiction and has called for a halt to the drilling. Ankara has vowed to sign a pact with the north on maritime boundaries and says it has contracted a Norwegian vessel to do a maritime survey in waters claimed by Greece.

The United Nations and the European Union have asked Turkey and Cyprus to show restraint in the dispute and reach a settlement as soon as possible.

In a related issue, Turkey has threatened to freeze relations with the ECU if it gives Cyprus the six-month rotating ECU presidency next year.

The internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government is due to take on the six-month rotating ECU presidency next July.

Greek Cypriots represent the island internationally, while Turkey is the only country in the world that recognizes the Turkish Cypriot north of the island.

Cyprus was split in a 1974 Turkish invasion triggered by a Greek-inspired coup. Turkish Cypriots live in its north and Greek Cypriots in the south. Ongoing reconciliation talks begun in 2008 between the Turkish north and the Greek south have so far failed to produce a settlement.

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