NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus said Friday it won't give up a search for oil and gas off its shores despite a call to stop by Turkey which warned that it would "take all necessary measures to protect its interests" in the eastern Mediterranean, as well as those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots.
Cyprus' government said it's regrettable that Turkey is resorting to "threats" to advance its own interests under the guise of concern for the rights of Turkish Cypriots.
"The Republic of Cyprus will resolutely continue its policy in the field of hydrocarbons, in full respect of international and European law," the Cyprus government said in a statement.
The Turkish government said earlier Friday that it expects Greek Cypriots to cease their gas search and to stop acting as if they're the sole owners of the ethnically divided island's natural resources.
It also implied that a continued search for gas could further jeopardize stalled talks aimed at reunifying the island as a federation.
A 1974 Turkish invasion triggered by a coup by supporters of union with Greece cleaved the island along ethnic lines. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and keeps more than 35,000 troops in the breakaway north.
Turkey doesn't recognize Cyprus as a state and insists any "unilateral" Greek Cypriot gas search flouts the rights of Turkish Cypriots to the island's mineral wealth.
Cyprus said it's acting in line with international law which Turkey disregards and is proceeding with the oil and gas exploration as the lawful custodian of the island's natural resources. It said it's been agreed as part of peace talks that Turkish Cypriots will benefit from any oil and gas proceeds after the island is reunified.
Major oil and gas companies including Italy's Eni, France's Total and ExxonMobil have won licenses to carry out exploratory drilling in eight areas, or blocks, off Cyprus' southern coast.
Cypriot Energy Minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis said last week that Eni, in partnership with Total, will drill in one block later this year. Eni is planning another two drilling attempts in other blocks also within 2017, Lakkotrypis added.
Eni officials said their recent discovery of a big gas field off Egypt offers hope of more finds in Cypriot waters.
In earlier drilling, Texas-based Noble Energy discovered a field off Cyprus estimated to contain over 4 trillion cubic feet in reserves.