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Island War in the Arctic Ocean

Few have heard of it, no one lives there, but in the last couple of weeks Hans Island has created fierce political strife between Canada and Greenland / Denmark.


In one of the world's coldest and most inaccessible areas, the island of Hans lies in the Arctic Ocean between Greenland and Canada. It is uninhabited and is only 1,3 km2. In Greenlandic it has been named Tartupaluk.

Both Canada and Greenland claim the island. Its significance today is most symbolic, but global warming has hit the political top. Tartupaluk may prove to be of strategic importance both in the battle for resources in the Arctic, but what the parties particularly seem to be concerned about now is the possibility that in a few years it will be possible to sail north of Canada and out into the Pacific. For ship traffic, it will mean several things. The route from Europe to both the North American and Russian Pacific coasts will be shorter. For ship traffic, it also means that they are releasing the Panama Canal which today creates traffic jams. And a new route north of Canada also means that even larger freighters can be used since the Panama Canal does not take the largest ships.

Will negotiate

The Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who earlier this week met the Prime Ministers of the Faroe Islands and Greenland at the annual national meeting in the Faroe Islands where Tartupaluk was discussed, says that Denmark and Greenland want Canada to the negotiating table about the island. He says he now wants to end the years-long "flag war" about it.

- It's time for us to stop this flag war. Nowhere in an international and modern world does such a disagreement lie dormant. Denmark and Canada must be able to find a peaceful solution to this conflict, said Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

The war on Tartupaluk has been going on since 1973. Much of the time, the disagreement has almost been a secret and little discussed in the two countries. In 1973, today's border between Greenland and Canada was listed on the map, but Tartupaluk remained in a no-man's land. Since then, both the Canadian fleet and the Danish fleet stationed in Greenland have had annual expeditions to Tartupaluk. It is not every year that it is possible to get up on the island, but when possible it has taken down the flag of the other country and planted its own. In addition, the Danes have left aquavit bottles on the island, while the Canadians have left whiskey. This is a greeting to the next expedition to visit the island.

Canadian provocation

The war flared up and became public knowledge when the Canadian Minister of Defense Bill Graham visited Tartupaluk on July 20 this year. The visit provoked both Greenland and Denmark, and the Danish Foreign Minister sent a letter to the Canadian government informing them that this was inappropriate, since the island is Greenlandic territory. At the same time, the Danes invited to a dialogue about the island's future.

Earlier this week, the Danish Armed Forces sent the coastguard ship "Tulugaq" to Tartupaluk to set up a new flag on the island. This expedition they have carried out annually since 1988.

According to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Canada has now come up with a positive answer, and that they will now find a date where representatives of Greenland and Denmark will meet representatives of Canada.

However, the Danish Prime Minister is not willing to give in to the Canadian demand. He states that the island is part of the Danish kingdom. He says that Denmark has seen the island as Greenlandic long before Canada began to show interest in Tartupaluk.

Negotiations on the island will probably start at the same time as the UN General Assembly in September. If the parties do not agree, Denmark will request that an international mediator resolve the matter, otherwise it must be decided in an international forum.

Canada does not intend to let Anders Fogh Rasmussen decide the agenda. According to Dan McTeague, who sits in the Canadian Parliament and is a spokesman for the Secretary of Defense, the authorities are in the process of gathering evidence that Tartupaluk belongs to Canada.

He points out, among other things, that Canada had a research station on the island during World War II. McTeague is not directly impressed with the Danes who are constantly setting up new flags on the island.

- A flag is a flag. Canada claims the island no matter what flags are set up, says Dan McTeague to the newspaper The Ottawan Citizen.

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