February 13, 2018 / 12:01 PM / 2 months ago

UPDATE 1-Cyprus should not 'overstep the mark' after ship incident, Turkey says

(Adds Erdogan quotes, background)

ANKARA, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday warned Cyprus not to “overstep the mark” in the eastern Mediterranean, after Greek Cypriots accused the Turkish military of obstructing a vessel exploring for natural gas over the weekend.

Turkey, which does not have diplomatic relations with Cyprus, claims that some areas of Cyprus’s offshore maritime zone fall under the jurisdiction of Turkey or Turkish Cypriots.

The area where the Saipem 1200 drill ship was headed, Block 3 of Cyprus’s economic zone, is also claimed by Turkish Cypriots. Turkey’s state-owned oil company also plans to search for oil and gas off Cyprus.

“Our warships and security units are following all developments in the region with the instruction to do whatever is necessary,” Erdogan told members of his ruling AK Party in parliament.

“We warn those who overstep the mark in Cyprus and the Aegean,” he said. “They are standing up to us until they see our army, ships and planes,” he said, comparing the situation in the Aegean Sea and Cyprus with the Syrian region of Afrin where Turkey is waging an offensive against the Kurdish YPG militia.

The European Union on Monday called on Turkey to avoid threats and “refrain from any actions that might damage good neighbourly” ties.

Executives from the Italian oil company ENI, which contracted the vessel that was obstructed, were expected in Nicosia for discussions on Tuesday, Cypriot officials said.

Eni and France’s Total, partners in a Cyprus venture, announced last week finding a promising gas field off Cyprus. They said the find looked geologically similar to the Zohr field off Egypt, which holds an estimated 30 trillion cubic feet of gas, the largest field ever found in the Mediterranean .

Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 after a brief Greek-inspired coup. Peace talks collapsed last year. Greek Cypriots, who are exploring for natural gas, run Cyprus’s internationally recognised government.

Turkish Cypriots run a breakaway state in north Cyprus recognised only by Ankara in north Cyprus. They say resources around the island belong to them, too. (Reporting by Ercan Gurses and Daren Butler, and Michele Kambas in Nicosia; Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Dominic Evans, Larry King)

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