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France, Cyprus Joint Naval Exercises Seen as Message to Turkey

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France and Cyprus are conducting naval maneuvers off the coast of Cyprus as the east Mediterranean island nation is embroiled in a tense dispute with Turkey over offshore gas drilling.

Two French frigates heading to Syria plan to take part in “routine” exercises in Cypriot waters this weekend, a French military spokesman, Col. Frederic Barbry, said Saturday.

One ship arrived on Thursday and the other is due to arrive on Sunday. France, part of the U.S.-led military coalition, maintains a naval presence off the coast of Syria for monitoring and coordination purposes, Barbry said.

The maneuvers come as a Turkish drillship, which is escorted by warships, is poised to start drilling inside waters where Cyprus has licensed French energy company Total and Italian partner Eni to explore for gas.

Another warship-escorted Turkish drillship began drilling in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone in June. The European Union and other countries have condemned Turkey’s gas search inside Cypriot waters as illegal.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly tweeted Saturday that the joint exercises would enable Cyprus to “assume its responsibilities in its sovereign waters.”

Cyprus’ Defence Minister Savvas Angelides told CNA that “the naval drill is important, in the framework of Cypriot-French cooperation, while it is also sending a message in relation to exercising the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus in its EEZ.”

At the same time, we remain committed to our efforts to terminate Turkish illegal activities through political, diplomatic and legal means, Angelides noted.

Government Spokesman Prodromos Prodromou also referred to the French-Cypriot naval drill, saying that it is part of the close cooperation between the two countries. “France reinforces the Republic of Cyprus is exercising its sovereign rights, in line with the unanimous stance of the EU” Prodromou wrote on twitter.

Greek Defence Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos told Greek television on Friday that Paris was sending one of its frigates to Cyprus’ EEZ.

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