Turkish Cypriot leader proposes joint energy committee

File photo. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (L) shakes hands with President of Northern Cyprus Mustafa Akinci (R), before their meeting in the Turkish Cypriot northern part of the divided city of Nicosia, Cyprus, 25 January 2019. [Andreas Manoli/EPA/EFE]

Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı on Saturday (13 July) proposed creating a joint committee across the divided Mediterranean island, to address tensions over offshore energy reserves.

The discovery of huge gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has sparked a dispute between EU member Cyprus and Turkey, which has sent two ships to carry out drilling and vowed to continue.

Cyprus is divided between the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus and a breakaway state set up after the 1974 Turkish invasion, following a coup sponsored by the military junta then ruling Greece.

EU countries are struggling to agree what measures to take to punish Turkey for pursuing drilling operations off Cyprus in defiance of repeated warnings, diplomats said Friday.

EU threatens Turkey with sanctions over Cyprus drilling

The European Union is set to curb contacts and funding for Ankara in retaliation for what it calls Turkey’s “illegal” drilling for gas and oil off Cyprus and stands ready to ramp up sanctions further, according to a draft statement.

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The measure proposed by Akıncı aims to “pass the subject of hydrocarbons from an area of tensions and conflicts to an area of productive cooperation,” Akıncı said in a note addressed to his Greek Cypriot counterpart Nicos Anastasiades.

Akıncı’s message, which was relayed by a United Nations intermediary, came as Turkey has vowed to continue drilling off Cyprus.

Ankara’s deployment of two ships — the Fatih and Yavuz — to search for oil and gas has sparked a dispute with the Republic of Cyprus, an EU member.

The offshore area where the vessels have been dispatched is part of what the international community recognises as the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Republic of Cyprus, which has invited Western giants like ExxonMobil and France’s Total to drill in lucrative deals for Nicosia.

Turkey itself granted exploration licences to Turkish Petroleum in 2009 and 2012 and opposes any offshore exploration which excludes the Turkish Cypriot part of the island led by Akıncı.

Turkey says its actions abide by international law and that it is drilling inside its own continental shelf.

The committee proposed by Akıncı to resolve the dispute would include representatives of his administration and those of the Republic of Cyprus in equal number.

It would be supervised by the UN with the EU as an observer, according to Saturday’s proposal.

Akıncı’s proposal was welcomed in a statement by the Turkish foreign ministry, which said Turkish and Greek Cypriots have “equal rights” over the offshore hydrocarbon resources.

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