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May 24, 2017

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Canada, Denmark settle Arctic territorial dispute

OTTAWA -- Canada and Denmark have settled a decades-old dispute over an Arctic maritime boundary, their foreign ministers said Thursday, though disagreement remains over ownership of a key tiny island.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and his Danish counterpart Villy Sovndal said in a statement that they reached a tentative deal on where to draw the boundary in the Lincoln Sea, a body of water north of Ellesmere Island, in far north-eastern Canada, and Greenland.

The agreement to strike a line equidistant from each coastline however does not address the sovereignty of Hans Island, a barren 1.3-square-kilometer (0.5-square-mile) rock that sits between Ellesmere and Greenland.

Negotiations will continue over the uninhabited snow-covered island, which has been at the center of a decades-long spat that on the surface seems absurd but has become essential for economic development and environmental stewardship of the Arctic.

With the onset of global warming more ships are expected to sail between Ellesmere and Greenland, and the area will now open up to mining, fishing, and oil and gas drilling operations.

The dispute over the Lincoln Sea and Hans Island dates back to 1973 when the border was drawn between Canada and Greenland, part of the Danish kingdom.

Danes and Canadians have since visited Hans Island to stake their country's claim over the rock, resulting in diplomatic protests, vivid online campaigns and even a Canadian call for a boycott of Danish pastries.

Denmark fears that losing the ownership battle would undermine relations with Greenland, while Canada worries that a loss would weaken its negotiating position in a more consequential dispute with the United States over the Beaufort Sea, in far northwestern Canada, believed to be rich in hydrocarbons.

Once the Lincoln Sea treaty is ratified, Canada and Denmark will share a boundary more than 1,600 nautical miles long.

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