Canada, Denmark to settle dispute over uninhabited Arctic island

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Canada, Denmark to settle dispute over uninhabited Arctic island

Canada and Denmark will formally divide a small, uninhabited Arctic island Tuesday, bringing to a close a nearly 50-year-long dispute over its status, reported DW, quoting news agencies AP and Reuters.

The diplomatic act is largely symbolic as the two countries are both NATO allies and neither has moved to militarize the island, known as Hans Island or Tartupaluk in Greenlandic. The agreement will be signed later Tuesday.

Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said, "It sends a clear signal that it is possible to resolve border disputes."

He added resolving the previously amicable impasse is "an important signal now that there is much war and unrest in the world."

Canada's Minister of Northern Affairs, Dan Vandal, said, "I think it's very positive given our world situation today."

What is behind the dispute?

The two countries have bantered about making claims to the tiny, 1.2 square-kilometer uninhabited strip of land since 1971, when their rival claims first surfaced.

Curiously and largely due to the fact that the island is uninhabited, neither Canada nor Denmark was aware of the other's claims until a conference over territorial boundaries in 1971.

In 1973, the two sides agreed that a border would be drawn through the Nares Strait, midway between Greenland and Canada. Though the friction over Hans Island, some 1,100 kilometers south of the North Pole, remained unresolved.

Hans Island is an equal distance between Greenland and Ellesmere Island in Canada.

The island is named after the explorer Hans Hendrik who was involved in an expedition to the island in 1853. In Greenlandic and Inuktitut, the island is known as Tartupaluk, which means, "kidney-shaped."

Since the 1980s, scientists, researchers and explorers have visited the island, alternatively removing the others' flag and leaving their own respective one.

The Danish minister of Greenlandic affairs raised a Danish flag on the island in 1984 after Canada had done the same, leaving a bottle of whiskey. The Danish minister responded in kind by burying a bottle of Danish schnapps at the base of the flagpole and leaving a note that read, "Welcome to the Danish island.''

According to media reports, a minor tradition to leave a bottle of Canadian whiskey or Danish schnapps for those who come after evolved from there. The dispute over the contested island was dubbed "the whiskey war."

However, in 2005, the Canadian defense minister took a symbolic walk on the barren island, prompting a rebuke from Denmark resulting in the Canadian ambassador being summoned.

That year, negotiations resumed as former Danish Prime Minister, later NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called for an end to "the flag war."

What is the agreement between Canada and Denmark?

The Danish Foreign Ministry published details of the deal on Tuesday. With the deal, Canada and Denmark have established the world's longest maritime border of 3,882 kilometres (2,412 miles) spanning from the Lincoln Sea in the North to the Labrador Sea in the South.

Canada and Denmark will divide the island into two almost equally sized parts along a natural, stony barrier known as an outcrop, though given the rugged and inaccessible terrain, no Danes or Canadians are expected to reside on the divided island, making the division largely symbolic.

More significantly, it is a sign of the Arctic NATO states moving closer together to resolve problematic squabbles following Russia's decision to invade Ukraine. In 2018, both sides agreed to a working group to move beyond an "agree to disagree" policy over the island's status.

Greenland is an autonomous territory that is part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Copenhagen handles Greenland's foreign policy and security.

The agreement will fully enter into effect after both countries complete their internal processes.

Denmark's parliament must also approve of the deal.

Canada, Denmark to settle dispute over uninhabited Arctic island

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