Turkey's criticism comes after Ankara deployed navy vessels on Friday to stop a rig belonging to the Italian energy firm ENI as it headed toward an area southeast of Cyprus.

Petroleum exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean has been contagious issue between Turkey and Greek Cyprus for years.
Petroleum exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean has been contagious issue between Turkey and Greek Cyprus for years. (AP Archive)

Turkey's foreign ministry criticised the Greek Cypriot administration in southern Cyprus on Sunday for conducting a "unilateral" offshore hydrocarbons search at the expense of the island’s Turkish Cypriot inhabitants. 

Turkey on Friday sent its navy vessels to prevent an Italian rig from reaching an area off the east Mediterranean island where it was to start exploratory drilling for gas at the request of the Greek Cypriot administration. 

In a statement Sunday, the Turkish government said Greek Cypriots were disregarding the "inalienable rights on natural resources" of Turkish Cypriots and jeopardising the region's stability.

Turkey's foreign ministry said the Greek Cypriot administration was acting like "the sole owner of the island" and warned it would be responsible for any consequences. It also urged foreign companies not to support the Greek Cypriot administration’s activities.

Cyprus was split into an internationally-recognized Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north in 1974 when Turkey exercised its right under an international treaty to militarily intervene following a coup by the Greek junta on the island. 

The coup aimed to annex Cyprus to Greece in a move its supporters called “enosis.” 

Only Turkey recognises the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which declared independence in 1983 following years of failed peace talks with the Greek Cypriots.

Turkey still maintains a presence of more than 35,000 troops in the Turkish Cypriot north as a protective force. 

An ENI spokesman told The Associated Press that the Turkish navy vessels told the rig not to continue in the area as there would be military activities at its destination. The spokesman said the rig would remain where it stopped until the situation is resolved.

Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades denied on Sunday that his administration is taking actions that will lead to an escalation of tensions. He also claimed that Turkey was violating international law.

The Greek Cypriot administration says a gas search is its sovereign right and that any potential hydrocarbon wealth generated will be equitably shared among all people of Cyprus after the island is reunified.

Italy's ENI, France's TOTAL and ExxonMobil of the US are among the companies licensed to search for hydrocarbons off Cyprus' southern coast.

Last week, the Greek Cypriot administration announced that ENI and partner TOTAL had discovered a potentially sizeable gas field off its southwestern coast that's close to Egypt's Zohr deposit, which is the largest ever discovered in the Mediterranean.

In earlier drilling, Texas-based Noble Energy discovered a field off Cyprus estimated to hold more than 4 trillion cubic feet of gas.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies