Cyprus has petitioned the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague to safeguard its offshore mineral rights, its president said on Thursday, upping the ante with neighbor Turkey which disputes its claims.
Cyprus's internationally recognized government discovered offshore gas in 2011 but has been at loggerheads with Turkey over maritime zones around the island, where it has granted licences to multinational companies for oil and gas research.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said Cyprus is committed to protecting its sovereign rights with every legal means possible.
"Our recourse to The Hague has that very purpose," he told journalists in Nicosia.
Turkey, which does not have diplomatic relations with Cyprus's government, says that some areas Nicosia operates in are either on the Turkish continental shelf, or in areas where the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state has rights over any finds. It has sent its own drill ships to the island.
The ICJ has the power to issue binding decisions.
The actual petition Cyprus has filed has not been disclosed and officials in Nicosia declined any immediate further comment.
Anastasiades said Cyprus had attempted to deliver a notice of its intentions to Turkey's embassy in Athens but it was not accepted. "So it was sent another way," he said. "There is proof that it was received, so that gives (Cyprus) the right to recourse."
Cyprus's Sigma TV, which first reported the petition, said the notice was then sent by fax.
The ICJ declined comment on whether it had received a petition from Cyprus.
"This news illustrates that the proper way to resolve international disputes or situations is through peaceful means, including, as a last resort, recourse to the courts," said Dr. Klearchos Kyriakides, assistant professor of law at the Cyprus Campus of the University of Central Lancashire.
"That’s what the rule of law requires."
EU member Cyprus was divided in a Turkish invasion in 1974 after a brief Greek-inspired coup. Turkey supports a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in north Cyprus.
Both Greek and Turkish Cypriots created the Republic of Cyprus in 1960 but the partnership crumbled in acrimony in 1963, leaving Greek Cypriots running the island.
(Reporting By Michele Kambas, additional reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by David Goodman, Elaine Hardcastle and Giles Elgood)