An accord reunifying ethnically split Cyprus could unlock a deal to convey gas discovered in fields off Israel, Egypt and Cyprus to markets through neighbouring Turkey’s existing pipeline network, the leader of the island’s breakaway Turkish Cypriots said Monday.

Mustafa Akinci said Turkey is the cheaper, faster “logical” route to markets for east Mediterranean gas, but that a Cyprus peace deal must precede any such plans.

“Everybody could win from this,” he told a televised news conference.

Akinci made the remark in response to an ambitious pipeline project linking east Mediterranean gas deposits and conveying them directly to Europe. The European Union has funded a feasibility study on the proposed East Med pipeline that has the backing of Israel, Cyprus, Greece and Italy.

ExxonMobil is scheduled to begin exploratory drilling off Cyprus later this month. Turkey vehemently opposes a gas search by the Cypriot government in the internationally recognized south, saying it infringes on it rights and those of Turkish Cypriots to the island’s natural resources.

The Cypriot government says drilling is its sovereign right and any potential mineral wealth will be shared equitably with all Cypriot citizens after reunification.

Akinci said he’s open to discussing a proposal by the island nation’s Greek Cypriot president for a more decentralized federal government in a peace agreement that would grant more authority to the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot zones.

President Nicos Anastasiades said last week his proposal could make a peace deal more workable by reducing the number of federal responsibilities where disagreement could lead to deadlock.

But Akinci said Turkish Cypriots would never accept domination by the majority Greek Cypriots and are demanding “effective participation” in federal decision-making which he insisted wasn’t veto power.

UN envoy Jane Holl Lute is expected to return Cyprus for more contacts to determine whether stalled peace talks can resume.

Earlier Monday, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots walked through a newly opened crossing point in the southeastern village of Dherynia in what peace activists are hailing as further breaking down barriers.

Dherynia, and another crossing point in the country’s northwest, bring the total of crossing points to open since travel restrictions across the United Nations-controlled buffer zone were relaxed 2003 to nine.

Last month, Anastasiades and Akinci designated Nov. 12 as the crossings’ official opening in a bid to help build momentum toward restarting peace talks.

But a number of demonstrators at the crossing point voiced their opposition to the openings which they said help to entrench ethnic division. [AP]

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