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BRUSSELS: EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini on Saturday urged Turkey to reconsider plans to start exploratory drilling for oil and gas off Cyprus, already condemned as illegal by the European Union.

“We express grave concern over Turkey’s announced intention to carry out drilling activities within the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus,” Mogherini said in a statement.

“In March 2018, the European Council strongly condemned Turkey’s continued illegal actions in the Eastern Mediterranean,” she added.

“In this context, we urgently call on Turkey to show restraint,” she added, warning that the EU would “respond appropriately to any illegal action that violated Cyprus’s rights”.

On Friday Turkey sent out a message on NAVTEX, the international maritime navigational telex system, announcing its vessels would be carrying out drilling operations in the Mediterranean until September.

According to reports in the Cypriot media, the operation will encroach on Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone.

Turkey first announced it would be drilling for oil and gas off Cyprus back in February.

The discovery of gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has prompted claims by the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government and Ankara, which backs a breakaway Turkish Cypriot administration in the north of the island.

European Union member Cyprus has been pressing to develop offshore gas deposits and has signed deals with energy giants Eni, Total and ExxonMobil that have seen them carry out exploratory drilling.

Ankara claims that such exploration deprives the Turkish Cypriot minority of benefiting from the natural resources that surround the island.

In February 2018 a drillship for Italy’s Eni abandoned an attempt to search for gas off Cyprus after it was blocked by Turkish warships.

Published in Dawn, May 5th, 2019