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Turkey drills for oil, gas in breakaway northern Cyprus

Turkey began its first exploratory oil and gas drilling in the breakaway northern sector of the divided Cyprus on Thursday, amid a dispute over rights to the island's minerals.

The news brought a quick response from the government of Cyprus, which labeled the action as illegal.

Turkey's state-run Turkish Petroleum Corp (TPAO) bored the first onshore probe in the village of Sygkrasi (Sinirustu) at a ceremony attended by Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu.

"I am hopeful that the results will open up a new page for us in oil and gas production," Yildiz told reporters at the inauguration of the first such drilling in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Turkey.

Cypriot government spokesperson Stefanos Stefanou said "Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot leadership are violating the law by going ahead with drilling in the occupied are of Famagusta."

"Such actions as the drilling being carried out by Turkey and the T/C leadership show a lack of willingness on their part to achieve a solution to the Cyprus problem."

"The government is making the appropriate representations and demarche against this new illegal act."

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops occupied the northern third in response to a Greek-inspired coup in Nicosia aimed at union with Greece.

Although a reunification process is ongoing under UN mediation, progress has been slow, with both sides unwilling to make concessions on key issues.

The drilling came after an agreement struck between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Eroglu in September, when TPAO was granted a license to drill in line with a continental shelf delineation accord.

The Turkish move comes in response to Cypriot drills for resources in the eastern Mediterranean seabed launched last year, which Turkey says abuses northern Cypriots' rights to the same resources.

Turkish officials have fiercely opposed Cypriot drills, saying any such commercial activity should be put on hold until reunification efforts on the island reached a conclusion.

TPAO is expected to carry out the exploration drills from three to six months, at an approximately 3,000-meter depth.

The US Noble Energy, commissioned by Cyprus, announced last year discovery of a giant deposit that could contain up to 224 billion cubic meters of gas in one of the blocks within Cyprus' exclusive economic zone.

-AFP/NOW Lebanon