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Denmark invites Arctic nations to discuss claims to North

Denmark has invited the four other countries with Arctic coastal waters, including Canada, to a meeting in Greenland next month on northern territorial claims.

Denmark has invited the four other countries with Arctic coastal waters, including Canada, to a meeting in Greenland next month on northern territorial claims.

Denmark, Canada, Russia, Norway and the United States all lay claim to large swathes of underwater territory in the Arctic, which is thought to be rich in deep sea oil deposits and other commodities.

Under the United Nations Law of the Sea convention, signed by Canada in 2003, the five countries may be able to extend their sovereignty beyond the usual 200-nautical mile limit recognized in international law, if the seabed is an extension of the continental shelf.

That potentially gives Canada claim to an area the size of the Prairie provinces, but the agreement is also prompting Russia to insist that huge areas of the Arctic that extend from an undersea mountain range known as the Lomonosov Ridge are part of Russian territory.

Last year, Russia planted its flag on the seabed under the North Pole, laying claim to an area of over one million square kilometres.

The extent of that claim is opposed by the other Arctic countries.

No more Arctic stunts: Danes

Danish officials say overlapping claims between the various Arctic nations should be sorted out according to the rules and process laid out in the Law of the Sea convention.

Thomas Winkler, the head of the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs' international law department in Copenhagen, urged all countries to avoid publicity stunts such as planting flags on remote outposts of Arctic land.

"What we are focusing on is the general message that we will act responsibly in this region in accordance with international law," Winkler said.

Denmark also wants all five countries to agree not to sign any new international law agreement or treaty in the Arctic Ocean until the Land of the Sea process is completed.

"It's not a question of making new rules or new treaties or anything for the Arctic Ocean, because we believe we already have the rules we need in place," Winkler said. "So it's a question of confirming that we will adhere to these rules."

Canadian scientists working the country's most remote geological studies outpost off Ellesmere Island have been gathering data on an underwater ridge said to be part of Canadian territory.

Federal government scientist Jacob Verhoef told CBC's Patricia Bell that the idea was to define the edges of Canada's continental shelf, in collaboration with officials from the other four Arctic countries.

The research, Verhoef said, "will once and for all establish the outer limits of Canada and … give a certainty over how far off our sovereign rights extend."

Corrections

  • Danish officials have said overlapping claims between the various Arctic nations should be sorted out according to the rules and process laid out in the Law of the Sea convention, not at a proposed meeting of foreign ministers in Greenland at the end of May as previously reported.
    Apr 18, 2008 6:20 PM ET

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