Canada told to keep hands off Hans Island

“It’s time that the case is taken to one or another forum for international settlement”


NUUK, GREENLAND – Greenland’s home rule government is up in arms over last week’s visit to Hans Island by Bill Graham, Canada’s defence minister, and wants the United Nations to intervene.

Hans Island is a barren lump of rock located between northern Ellesmere Island and Greenland, which is claimed by both Canada and Denmark.

Greenland’s defence minister Josef Motzfeldt said he wasn’t happy about Graham’s visit to Hans Island.

“It’s time that the case is taken to one or another forum for international settlement,” Motzfeldt said.

Canada and Denmark paved the way for potential discord over Hans Island in 1973 when they drew a border that fell halfway between Ellesmere Island and Greenland and agreed that sovereignty over Hans Island and other islands in the region would be determined later.

The conflict over who owns the island must go to the U.N., said Kuupik Kleist, who represents Greenland in the Danish Parliament.

Kleist believes Hans Island will someday belong to Greenland. But he’s calling for a scientific examination of the island to see which nation has a claim to Hans Island and any nearby resources.

Hans Island’s geology resembles that of Greenland, although Denmark’s claim to Hans Island is based on an argument that the island is closer to Greenland than to Ellesmere.

Not surprisingly, Denmark also protested against Graham’s unannounced visit to Hans Island, summoning Canada’s ambassador to Denmark, Fredericka Gregory, to the Danish foreign ministry earlier this week for talks.

“We said that we deplored the visit, which was not announced to Denmark in advance, and we recalled that Hans Island has been part of Greenland since its discovery in 1852 during an expedition conducted by Denmark and Greenland,” Peter Taksoee-Jensen, the foreign ministry’s chief legal counsel, told Agences France-Presse.

In 2002 and 2003, a Danish ship landed on the island, and its crew planted Denmark’s flag.

Before Graham’s recent visit to Hans Island, Canadian forces erected a plaque, the Canadian flag and an inuksuk.

“I wasn’t there to make some big dramatic statement,” Graham told The Canadian Press.

“My act of going there was totally consistent with the fact that Canada has always regarded this island as a part of Canada… I was just visiting Hans Island the way I visited other facilities of Canada’s.”

Taksoee-Jensen told AFP that Copenhagen “reacted quickly” to Graham’s visit because Denmark does not want to see “a deterioration of the possibility for future negotiations on the status of the island.”

Next month, to bolster Denmark’s claim that the island is Danish, Denmark is planning on sending an inspection ship to visit Hans Island.

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