NICOSIA, July 17 (Xinhua) -- French Total energy company, in association with Italy's ENI, started a drilling for natural gas in Cyprus's exclusive economic zone on Monday, despite objections by Turkey which has sent ships to monitor the action, Cypriot government officials said on Monday.
The officials said on condition of anonymity that a drill aboard the specialized ship "West Capella" touched the sea bottom at a depth of over 1,200 meters, after several days of preparations.
"The natural gas exploration program is proceeding according to plan," government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said, without going into details.
The drilling, some 175 kilometers off Cyprus's southwestern shores, is being monitored by a small armada of foreign navy ships sailing in the volatile region of the eastern Mediterranean.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday that Ankara would take action against the Greek Cypriots for what he claimed as unilateral action without the participation of the estranged Turkish Cypriot community in planning and starting natural gas exploration.
He did not said what the action would be, but the Turkish Defense Ministry said later that it had sent two frigates and a submarine, as well as a seismic survey ship, to monitor the drilling.
Turkey invoked treaty intervention rights to send troops in Cyprus in 1974 to occupy a large part of its territory, in response to a short lived coup by the military rulers of Greece.
The Turkish warships are not the only ones to keep a close watch on the Total-ENI drilling.
Two French frigates participating in the United Nations peace mission in Lebanon initially docked at Larnaca port last week, ostensibly to refuel and restock.
One of them later sailed close to the drilling area and the other to an undisclosed destination off Cyprus.
Warships from other countries have been reported to have converged in the wider region of the drilling, prompting the Cypriot government spokesman to remark that "an international network of legality has been set up defining the limits of Turkey's actions."
France's Defense Minister Florence Parly arrived in Cyprus on Monday afternoon and later flew aboard a helicopter to the frigate sailing closest to Cyprus.
A Cypriot government spokesman said there were no plans for her to go to the region where the drilling is done.
The official line is that the visit was unconnected to the Total drilling, but Greece's Foreign Minister Nilos Kotzias said in Brussels that her presence in the region was a "good development."
After her visit to the frigate, Parly had a meeting with her Cypriot counterpart, Christoforos Fokaides, discussing bilateral cooperation, regional issues and European security arrangements.
The drilling drama comes just about 10 days after the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres declared an international conference in Switzerland called to seek an and to the partition of Cyprus failed to reach an agreement.