Heads of European Union Mediterranean states offered full support on Friday for fellow EU member Cyprus in a dispute with Turkey over the ownership of offshore natural gas deposits.
The discovery of lucrative energy reserves has exacerbated tensions between Turkey and Cyprus which date to an ethnic conflict in 1974 that split the island between its Greek and Turkish Cypriot populations. The Turkish-speaking northern part of Cyprus proclaims independence, recognized only by Turkey.
Cyprus said this week it had issued arrest warrants for the crew of a Turkish drill ship it accused of infringing territory over which it claims the right to explore for oil and gas.
Turkey has overlapping claims of jurisdiction for offshore research in the Mediterranean and argues that Turkish Cypriots also have a right to a share of the newfound resources. Ankara said reports of the arrest warrants “crossed the line”.
EU leaders in Malta threw their weight behind Cyprus.
“Turkey must stop its illegal activities in the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus,” said French President Emmanuel Macron. “The European Union will not show any weakness on this subject.”
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said: “It’s important to signal that the EU should take specific measures if Turkey does not stop its infringing behavior. Whoever doesn’t respect international law must suffer the consequences.”
Turkey has bid for EU membership, but its candidacy is frozen, with the EU executive in May saying its hopes of joining were fading because of backsliding on rights and rule of law.