Official: Turkish ship explores near Cypriot gas rig

September 27, 2011 15:35

ANKARA - Turkey said on Tuesday it was exploring for gas in an offshore zone where Cyprus started drilling last week, a provocative step in a battle over Mediterranean resources that overshadowed the resumption of peace talks for the divided island.

The question of who has the right to tap what may be the world's biggest natural gas find of the past decade has added sudden urgency to long delayed efforts to settle the conflict over Cyprus, divided since 1974 into Greek and Turkish enclaves.

The internationally-recognized Greek Cypriot government says it has a sovereign right to drill. Turkey, the only country to recognize a separate Turkish Cypriot government in the north of the island, says the island's status must be resolved first.

Last week, Turkey and Turkish Cyprus signed their own pact outlining maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean, paving the way for gas exploration. Turkey said it would protect any research vessel with warships, raising the prospect of an armed stand-off on the high seas.

On Sept. 23, Turkey dispatched its only research vessel, the Piri Reis, to the eastern Mediterranean.

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