Cyprus to ramp up exploratory gas drilling: minister

Cyprus Energy Minister George Lakkotrypis (C, pictured April 2017) told reporters that "activities in the Cyprus EEZ (exclusive economic zone) continue" (AFP Photo/Iakovos Hatzistavrou)

Nicosia (AFP) - Cyprus will ramp up its search for gas, a minister said on Tuesday, after Turkey announced plans to carry out its own drilling in waters off the Mediterranean island.

"Activities in the Cyprus EEZ (exclusive economic zone) continue. Eight drills are scheduled over the next 24 months. Six exploratory and two confirmatory," Energy Minister George Lakkotrypis told reporters.

The drilling was expected to begin by the end of this year or early 2020, he said, without specifying where or whether any foreign companies would be involved.

Turkey, which says such exploration deprives the Turkish Cypriot minority of benefiting from the island's natural resources, has announced its intention to start drilling off Cyprus until September 3.

The European Union on Monday urged Turkey to show restraint and respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus, an EU member state, over the energy dispute.

The United States, Israel and Egypt have also come out against Turkey's incursion into the island's exclusive economic zone.

Turkey says it is drilling inside its continental shelf and complying with international law.

It does not recognise the Cyprus government which it regards as an exclusively Greek Cypriot administration.

The discovery of gas reserves off Cyprus has triggered an escalating dispute between the two sides.

The island has been divided since 1974 when Ankara occupied its northern third in response to a coup engineered by the military junta then in power in Athens-aimed at uniting it with Greece.

Successive UN-brokered efforts to reunify the island have all failed, the most recent in Switzerland in July 2017.