UN urges Cyprus, Turkey to ease tensions over energy

UN envoy Espen Barth Eide on Wednesday urged Cyprus and Turkey to take steps to ease tensions over the divided island`s energy search, warning it could harm the peace process.

Nicosia: UN envoy Espen Barth Eide on Wednesday urged Cyprus and Turkey to take steps to ease tensions over the divided island`s energy search, warning it could harm the peace process.

Cyprus on Tuesday suspended its participation in UN-led peace negotiations in protest over moves by Turkey to undermine its right to exploit gas and oil reserves.

Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Dervis Eroglu had been due to meet Thursday inside the UN-controlled buffer zone in Nicosia.

"I think it`s very important now that everybody acts responsibly and avoid further escalation," Eide told reporters after meeting Wednesday with Anastasiades, president of the internationally-recognised Republic of Cyprus.

The Norwegian diplomat said an understanding had to be reached "as soon as possible" to ensure the island`s energy resources are shared between all Cypriots.

Anastasiades`s government has not clarified whether the peace process would be put on hold indefinitely, only saying that it was taking "legal and diplomatic" steps against Turkey`s "hostile action" in Cyprus`s exclusive economic zone.

But the envoy said that without a solution the energy issue will remain a source of conflict.

"Oil and gas can be either a blessing or curse," said Eide.

"If it is well managed it will be a source of wealth for all Cypriots, if it becomes a source of tension it will be a problem for everyone and then it will be more of a curse than a solution."

Eide said it was up to the leaders when they start the peace talks.

"I cannot force people to meet but I hope that it will be soon, (and) while they are not meeting I will keep talking to both."

Turkish troops invaded and occupied the northern third of Cyprus in 1974 in response to an Athens-engineered coup aimed at uniting it with Greece. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognised only by Turkey.

Ankara opposes Nicosia`s exploitation of offshore hydrocarbon reserves before any peace deal, but is itself determined to search for oil and gas in an area the Cypriot government has licensed exploratory drills.

The Greek Cypriots argue that the failure to reach a settlement should not mean such projects are put on hold.

Italian-Korean energy consortium ENI-Kogas began deep sea drilling off Cyprus for possible gas last month in a second block to undergo exploratory tests since the first find in 2011.

US firm Noble Energy made the first find in the Aphrodite field, which is estimated to contain 102 billion to 170 billion cubic metres (3.6 trillion to six trillion cubic feet) of gas.

Government officials in Nicosia say Ankara, which does not recognise the zone, has announced that a Turkish seismic vessel would carry out a survey in the same area as ENI-Kogas`s platform from mid-October.

Ankara has also threatened to boycott energy firms operating off Cyprus, while in the past Nicosia accused it of "gunboat diplomacy" by harassing international ships involved.

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