TURKEY: SHIPS NOT SENT TO CYPRUS, MILITARY SAYS

Ankara, 1 Feb. (AKI) - Reports that Turkey has sent warships to waters controlled by Cyprus were not true, Ankara's military chief said Thursday. Earlier Turkish newsreports said that the military ships had been dispatched as a show of strength by Anakara in its dispute with the Greek Cypriot government in Nicosia over oil and gas exploration rights. But general Yasar Buyukanit, the military chief of staff, told reporters that Turkish warships routinely patrol the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean and that no new force had been sent around Cyprus.

Earlier this week Turkey warned Lebanon and Egypt not to embark in oil and gas exploration deals signed with Cyprus, saying Turkey and Turkish Cypriots also had rights in the region - almost half of the island of Cyprus is controlled by Turkey which has set up the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, an entity not recognised internationally.

Cyprus has responded by saying it would protest to the United Nations and the European Union over Turkey's warnings, and vowed to press ahead with a tender for the project.

Turkey thorny relations with Cyprus and Greece remain one of the main stumbling blocks in Ankara's bid to join the EU. Late last year the EU suspended part of the membership talks after Ankara refused to open its seaports and airports to traffic from Cyprus.

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