By Murat Demirci
LEFKOSA, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus
There is no justification for excluding the will of Turkish Cypriot people in drilling activities around the island, said Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ (TRNC) premier on Friday, rebuffing Greek Cyprus’ unilateral natural gas drilling efforts.
Tufan Erhurman stressed that Turkish Cypriots are one of the two main elements to decide and manage the area's natural resources.
His reaction comes amid the ongoing row between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots over an Italian drilling ship trying to do gas exploration in the Mediterranean Sea.
The ship was blocked by the Turkish navy before reaching the area.
Erhurman added that merely getting some share of the natural wealth in the Mediterranean would not be enough, but that the Turkish Cypriot people should be part of the management and decision-making process of the region’s natural resources.
Erhurman said the creation of a committee including both essential elements of the process would be the right approach.
"No excuse can justify the execution of will of the Turkish Cypriot people,” he added.
"Of course, we [the TRNC] will continue this work together with Turkey," he said, adding that Foreign Minister Kudret Ozersay was appointed to follow the process.
Italian drilling ship moves off Cyprus amid row
A drilling ship of Italian energy firm ENI will leave Mediterranean amid the dispute between the Turkish side and the Greek Cypriot administration, a Greek Cypriot official said on Friday.
Speaking to Greek Cypriot RIK radio, spokesperson Nikos Christodoulides said the SAIPEM 12000 had returned to Limassol, Greek Cyprus, en route to Morocco.
"Cyprus will not cancel its energy plans," Christodoulides claimed.
Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus officials had repeatedly said that they would not permit unilateral natural gas exploration activities by the Greek side in the Mediterranean.
Greek Cypriot administration deputy spokesperson Victoras Papadopoulos told Cyprus News Agency on Friday that the drilling ship had to return after getting blocked by Turkish warships in the area.
ENI CEO Claudio Descalzi announced on Thursday that they were planning to withdraw the ship until the issue is solved.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when a Greek Cypriot coup was followed by violence against the island's Turks, and Ankara's intervention as a guarantor power.
It has seen an on-and-off peace process in recent years, including the latest initiative in Switzerland under the auspices of guarantor countries Turkey, Greece and the U.K. collapsing in 2017.
Turkey blames Greek Cypriot intransigence for the talks' failure, also faulting the European Union for admitting Cyprus as a divided island into the union in 2004 after Greek Cypriot voters rejected a peace deal.