‘We won’t fall for Turkish provocations’

THE GOVERNMENT said yesterday it would protest a decision by the Turkish Cypriot regime to extend its ‘territorial waters’ from three to 12 nautical miles.

The Turkish Cypriot ‘cabinet’ voted late on Wednesday to send the ‘assembly’ a draft law extending territorial waters to 12 miles from the present three miles, spokesman Salih Miroglu said.

The ‘assembly’ is expected to vote on the bill this week.

But Government Spokesman Michalis Papapetrou said yesterday the Greek Cypriot side would not be drawn into any moves that could facilitate the games played by the Turkish side at a time when peace talks were under way.

Protest would be made to UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan, the five permanent members of the Security Council and to international organisations dealing with shipping and air transport, Papapetrou said.

“It is contradictory for the Turkish side to be provoking in this way at a time when peace talks are taking place,” said Papapetrou, accusing the Turkish Cypriots of “trying to facilitate tensions instead”.

Athens said the law would be illegal and an impediment to talks on reuniting the island.

“It is an illegal act by an illegal government to extend the territorial waters,” Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis told reporters in Athens. “This decision essentially aims at undermining the face to face-to-face talks.”

Turkey and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash have repeatedly warned of a crisis as Cyprus edges closer to European Union membership, with Ankara threatening to annex the north if Cyprus joins without a solution.

Enver Yetkili, head of the harbours department of the Turkish Cypriot administration, yesterday called the decision “overdue”.

Cyprus expanded its territorial waters to 12 miles in 1964 after it won independence from former colonial ruler Britain.

“This decision will extend the area we are responsible for, in turn expanding our sovereignty. The extension of our territorial waters will expand the area of responsibility for sea and air rescues, the coast guard, police and customs,” Yetkili said.

The British Bases recently handed over sea and air rescue operations to the Cyprus government.

Ankara and the Turkish Cypriots have bristled at Greek Cypriot control of sea and air rescue operations. Earlier this month the Turkish military staged rescue exercises off the northern coast.

The latest move comes in the same week as a Turkish research vessel, the Sismik, docked in the occupied areas.

The stakes have been raised in recent months by reports of offshore natural gas reserves between Cyprus and Egypt. The Turkish Cypriot side has said it is entitled to a share of any resources that are found.