October 21, 2010 / 1:26 PM / in 7 years

UPDATE 1-Turkey to search for oil off north Cyprus

* Move might strain slow-moving peace talks

* Cyprus, Turkey at loggerheads over oil exploration

(Adds details)

ANKARA, Oct 21 (Reuters) - Turkey said on Thursday it will begin exploring for oil off the north of the ethnically-divided island of Cyprus, a move which could strain already slow-moving peace talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.

“We will begin work on oil exploration around Cyprus and in our exclusive territory,” Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told a conference in the capital Ankara where Turkey signed an energy protocol with the breakaway Turkish Cypriot enclave in north Cyprus.

“We are working on supplying the Greek Cypriot side with energy if requested,” he said.

Yildiz said the area included 288,000 square kilometres between the Turkish city of Mersin, off Turkey’s southern coast, and northern Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey invaded the northern part of the island in 1974 after a brief coup inspired by a military junta then ruling Greece, and set up an enclave that is only recognised by Ankara.

The internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government in the south represents Cyprus in the European Union. Greek Cypriots oppose Turkey joining the EU until the conflict is resolved and have blocked progress on Turkey’s EU negotiations.

Oil exploration is one source of friction between the two communities, which started peace talks in 2008, in fresh bid to end one of the world’s most enduring conflicts.

Cyprus has accused Turkey of acting as a “bully” in disputes with oil exploration licenses. Turkey and Turkish Cypriots say Greek Cypriots have no authority to explore for oil or gas. (Reporting by Orhan Coskun)

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