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Media Watch 2007

02 February 2007
Source: Cyprus Weekly
Author: Philippos Stylianou
Comment: The following article appeared in the Cyprus Weekly of Nicosia on 2 February 2007.
Warships row
"A spokesman of the British High Commission said… "…the legal personality of the Republic of Cyprus, and its rights in international law, are not in doubt."… "in Washington, Foreign Department Sean McCormack said: "We recognise the Republic of Cyprus as a sovereign state""…

"CONFUSED reports about the movement of Turkish warships in Cyprus waters yesterday added a dramatic backdrop to the war of words that Ankara has been waging against Nicosia since last week when the Government of Cyprus officially announced that it would be inviting international tenders for the exploration of its possible offshore mineral wealth.

The Cyprus Government dispatched written complaints to the United Nations and the European Union about the threatening behaviour of Turkey but Disy opposition yesterday said this was not enough.

Party Deputy Leader Averof Neofytou said the government should ask for the Security Council to convene in order to condemn "the provocative actions of Ankara."

Government Spokesman Christodoulos Pashiardis told The Cyprus Weekly that the government had not as yet considered that option. He noted that the letters addressed to the UN Secretary General and to the President of the Security Council, as well as to EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, conveyed both a complaint and a protest about Turkey’s attitude.

 

Adding muscle

The news about Turkish warships off the coast of Cyprus snowballed after a leading NTV broadcaster in Turkey reported early yesterday morning that naval units had been sent into international waters near the island to add muscle to Ankara’s words of warning.

Acting Permanent Secretary of the Cyprus Foreign Ministry Alexandros Zenon, asked by the Cyprus News Agency, about the report said they were following the situation "along with the National Guard, other security forces and the intelligence services and would act accordingly if the information was confirmed."

But Turkey’s military chief General Yasar Buyukanit denied the reports soon after, telling reporters that Turkish warships routinely patrol the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean.

"It’s nothing new, there is no need to send new warships," he was quoted as saying by the AP.

The Turkish General described the presence of Turkish warships in Cyprus as a daily routine.

According to persistent reports, however, a Turkish warship had headed towards Cyprus from the sea area of Rhodes, while other naval units anchored at the occupied port of Famagusta had sailed out in an easterly direction.

Late in the afternoon, Government Spokesman Christodoulos Pashiardis made the following statement: "The news reports by the Turkish media on Turkish war vessels having been sent to the sea area north of Cyprus have been checked as inaccurate.

Bullish outburst

"What has actually happened is that a Turkish corvette, which departed yesterday from the sea area of Rhodes, has moved along the south shores of Cyprus, beyond the territorial waters of the Republic of Cyprus, and has already sailed into the naval base of Mersin."

In a bullish outburst Ankara claimed that Turkey, as well as the Turkish Cypriots, had a stake in any offshore reserves in the southern seabed of Cyprus and did not mince its words about intervening to stop the Republic of Cyprus from exercising its sovereign rights.

Besides threatening Cyprus with dire consequences if it went ahead with offshore exploration, Turkey also warned Egypt and the Lebanon not to activate agreements they had signed with Cyprus for joint offshore activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. In addition Ankara cautioned Syria and Israel about concluding similar agreements with Cyprus.

Deals stand

The Turkish and Turkish Cypriot media claimed that Ankara’s bullying has born results, with both Egypt and Lebanon deciding to freeze their agreements with Nicosia.

The AP reported yesterday from Beirut that a Lebanese Foreign Ministry high official had assured the Turkish Ambassador Irfan Acar that Lebanon "was committed to its excellent relations with Turkey and clarified that Lebanon stands at an equal distance from all friendly countries out of keenness to preserve the rights of all parties."

No similar Turkish move was reported with Cairo.

Nevertheless, a reliable official source in Nicosia, who asked to remain unnamed, said that the Cyprus Government has had assurances from both Egypt and Lebanon that their agreements and cooperation with Cyprus will remain unaffected by Turkish reactions.

Delimitation

There seems to be some truth, however, about Turkish claims that Syria and Israel, with whom Cyprus is also seeking delimitation agreements, are pulling back, since their economic zones are adjacent to the sea area of occupied Cyprus.

Ankara also exercised pressure on oil companies that have reported bought the Cyprus offshore data package and plan to bid for exploration licences. These include BP, EXXON and Mobil.

Prompted by the media, both the US and the UK took a stand, albeit a somewhat equivocal one, on the tense situation whipped up by Ankara.

A spokesman of the British High Commission said that it would be "regrettable if the search for oil were to deepen the division between the communities on the island." He then added: "We hope an early solution to the Cyprus problem will allow all Cypriots to benefit from Cyprus’ mineral wealth, and the UK supports all efforts to that end. In the meantime the legal personality of the Republic of Cyprus, and its rights in international law, are not in doubt."

Replying to questions during his daily press briefing in Washington, Foreign Department Sean McCormack said: "This issue highlights once again why it is imperative that the Cyprus issue be resolved as soon as possible. A final settlement will enable all Cypriots to benefit jointly from the island’s resources. We encourage both parties to implement UN Under Secretary General Gambari’s proposals and move towards a settlement."

 

Legal rights

Invited specifically to comment on the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat’s statement that Turkey has legal rights in the continental shelf of the Republic of Cyprus, the US spokesman said:

"We recognise the Republic of Cyprus as a sovereign state. We also believe that it is important that any development in the offshore area be done in a way to enhance prospects for reunification."

MacCormack declined to reply to another question if Mehmet Talat’s subservience to Ankara did not make US efforts to find a solution to the Cyprus problem more difficult.

Greek Foreign Ministry Spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos said that Turkey’s reactions to offshore exploration in Cyprus clashed with the basic principles of international law, national sovereignty and the right of independent states to cooperate in accordance with international law and international rules with peaceful purposes, such as the economic development of an area.He added that the attitude of the Turkish Foreign Ministry was not productive in a serious discussion about an important development, which aimed at the stability, good neighbourliness and the economic development of the south-eastern Mediterranean.

Cyprus is due to invite tenders for 11 offshore blocks on February 15, opening the first round of its offshore bidding, which closes in July.

Besides threatening the Republic of Cyprus, Ankara and its subservient occupation regime warned Egypt and Lebanon."