Greece's prime minister called his Turkish counterpart Monday in a bid to calm a spiralling dispute over energy resources off Cyprus as a Turkish ship began explorations under military protection.
George Papandreou "called for calm and restraint" and reiterated that Cyprus "was entitled to decide what it wants to do", said Greek government spokesman Elias Mossialos.
Papandreou also told Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Turkey has to "avoid unilateral acts", referring to Ankara's decision to retaliate in kind for the Greek Cypriot government's launch of offshore energy exploration.
"Both parties stressed their own position," an official from Erdogan's office said, adding that Erdogan told Papandreou of Turkey's opposition to Greek Cypriot undersea explorations.
He also warned that "unilateral steps (in Cyprus) are likely to have a negative effect" on the ongoing negotiations for the reunification of the island, the official said.
Meanwhile the Turkish ship Piri Reis, which embarked on its controversial mission last week, started its research at around 1330 GMT on Monday in the eastern Mediterrenean, Anatolia news agency reported.
"The team (onboard) said they are not encountering any problems... Turkish warplanes and frigates have... been closely following the work of the ship," the agency quoted Professor Huseyin Avni Benli, the head of the institute that owns the Piri Reis, as saying.
Cyprus government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou on Monday told reporters Nicosia was monitoring the situation closely.
"Where necessary it will make representations and form a political and diplomatic shield for Cyprus' right" to explore and exploit possible deposits, he said.
Stefanou also accused Turkey of violating international law and causing tension in the region.
Tensions rose after the Cyprus government, recognised internationally but not by Turkey, made a deal with US energy firm Noble, which has already started exploratory drilling for gas off the southern coast of the divided island.
Turkey then signed an accord with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), a statelet only recognised by Ankara, to explore energy supplies in designated waters off the island.
Turkey says the Greek side has no right to conduct offshore energy search while the island remains split, thus leaving the Turkish north out of the picture.
However Erdogan left the door open to cool the tension, when he told UN Secretary General Ban-Ki moon last week that Turkey was ready to drop its offshore research if rival Cyprus is willing to do the same.
Greece has historic bonds with the Greek Cypriot majority forming the government in Cyprus, split along ethnic lines. Turkish troops occupied its northern third in 1974 in response to an Athens-engineered coup in Nicosia aimed at union with Greece.
With the island now a member of the European Union, the Cyprus dispute is a major obstacle to Turkey realising its ambitions of joining the bloc.
Turkey has threatened to freeze its ties with the EU if Cyprus takes the rotating presidency of the bloc as scheduled next year before a solution is reached on the island's future.
by Safak Timur
(c) 2011 AFP