* Cyprus says to press on with plans to drill
* Turkey says action "not acceptable"
* Dispute comes at sensitive time in the region
(Adds Turkish foreign ministry, detail, edits)
By Michele Kambas
NICOSIA, Sept 13 Cyprus and Turkey exchanged
heated words on Tuesday over Cypriot plans to drill for offshore
oil and gas next month, adding to ill temper over peace talks on
the divided island at a time when Turkey is also feuding with
Following remarks last week by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip
Erdogan affirming Ankara's readiness to deploy its navy across
the Mediterranean, Cypriot President Demetris Christofias issued
a statement denouncing Turkish "threats" and saying EU-member
Cyprus would expect a response from its foreign allies.
A spokesman for Turkey's foreign ministry hit back by
criticising the plan by the Greek Cypriot government to start
exploiting oil and gas reserves before having reached a peace
settlement with Turkish speakers whose administration in the
north of the island is recognised only by Ankara.
The exchange of rhetoric over the undersea resources of the
Levant Basin reflects long-standing territorial disputes over
who controls the waters between Cyprus, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon,
Israel, the Palestinian Gaza Strip and Egypt.
It comes as efforts to narrow differences between Greek and
Turkish Cypriots on ending the 37-year division of the island
are stalled ahead of an October summit called by the United
Nations, and as relations between Israel and Turkey have been
soured by last year's Israeli raid on a Turkish ship off Gaza.
Christofias said in his statement that his government would
press ahead with plans to explore for oil and gas: "Concerning
the possibility of Turkey committing an unlawful act, something
which we hope will not happen, we will expect a strong and
effective response from the international community."
He added: "In addition to questioning the sovereign rights
of the Cyprus Republic, Turkey is also threatening our country
and its associates ... It is causing tension in the region,
sending the message that it acts like a troublemaker and
violates international norms."
TURKEY SAYS "NOT ACCEPTABLE"
Texas-based Noble Energy , under licence from the
internationally recognised government of Cyprus, is expected to
start exploration work in one offshore sector southeast of the
island around the beginning of October. Tenders for other
offshore blocks are expected later this year or next.
In response to Christofias, a Turkish foreign ministry
spokesman told Reuters: "The Greek Cypriots are creating a fait
accompli in the eastern Mediterranean while they are negotiating
with the Turkish Cypriots. This is not acceptable because the
natural wealth of the island belongs to both sides."
Christofias said that Turkish Cypriots, who have largely
depended on Ankara since Turkey invaded the island in 1974 after
a Greek-inspired coup, would have their share of the resources
once there was a political settlement.
The U.S. Geological Survey last year estimated a mean of 1.7
billion barrels of recoverable oil and a mean of 122 trillion
cubic feet of recoverable gas in the Levant Basin Province,
although disputes over control have held back exploration.
Israel has recently reported two major gas finds.
(Additional reporting by Daren Butler in Ankara; Editing by