(Adds Turkey-north Cyprus deal in principle on exploration)
NICOSIA, Sept 16 (Reuters) - The U.N. called on Friday for a peaceful resolution to a growing dispute between Turkey and Cyprus over gas exploration off the ethnically-divided island, saying any finds should benefit both communities if they ended their long-running conflict.
“The United Nations would appeal to all involved to resolve this matter in a peaceful manner,” said Lisa Buttenheim, special representative of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who heads the its peacekeeping mission on the island.
Cyprus’s internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government says it plans to go ahead with exploration for natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean. It has been challenged by Turkey, which backs a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in north Cyprus.
The Turkish state-run news agency Anatolian said Turkey and north Cyprus had agreed in principle to strike a deal to continental shelf delimitation, which refers to a coastal country’s territorial boundaries beyond its territorial sea.
Such a deal would give Turkey’s state-owned oil and gas exploration company TPAO an exploration license around the island, if the Greek Cypriots start exploration activity in the south, Anatolian reported.
Texas-based Noble Energy is expected to start work imminently on a block south-east of the island. Its drilling rig was moved into position on Thursday.
Buttenheim, who hosted peace talks on Friday between Greek Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu, said the issue was not directly related to the negotiations and had not been discussed.
“It should be understood that natural resources, if they are discovered, would be for the benefit of all Cypriots — Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots — under the framework of a federal united Cyprus,” she said.
Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. Present peace talks are the latest in a series of on-and-off consultations to relink the sides under a federal model.
The United Nations is now tentatively eyeing a deal on Cyprus by mid-2012, when the island will assume the rotating EU presidency. (Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Mark Heinrich)