NORWAY has recently turned down a Russian demand for joint inspections of the fishing grounds around the northerly territory of Svalbard (formerly called Spitsbergen).
Oslo is claiming that Svalbard is sovereign Norwegian territory and it had no intention of changing that position. Along with some lucrative fishing grounds, Svalbard is also thought to be rich in mineral and possibly oil resources and Russia has been trying to stake a claim to the northerly outpost for some time.
The tough Oslo stand has also received the backing of the Norwegian fishing vessel owners who say it would be unwise to establish any type of joint co-operation agreement as it might opened the door to other demands.
It is not just Russia that is looking at Svalbard. Iceland's trawler owners are calling for a fresh clarification over the legal rights to the territory. They want the clarification with particular reference to fishing rights.
Frederick J. Arngrímsson, head of the Icelandic Fishing Vessel owners Federation (LIU) wants a new look at sovereignty over Svalbard, claiming that Iceland had some interests in the fishing grounds around the territory. "We need to clarify the rights and status of Svalbard," said Mr Arngrímsson recently.
He pointed out that when the Svalbard Treaty was first signed back in 1920 the fishing territorial limits were just four miles from the shoreline. He said that for years LIU had urged the Icelandic government to enforce the legal remedy for fishing in Svalbard, and to sue Norway. He added that it was essential that both the legal rights and status of Svalbard should be properly clarified.
Recently Norway's Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre told the Norwegian newspaper Aftenpost that “Svalbard is just as much a part of Norway as Østfold. His comments came after a report written by Humber MEP by Diana Wallis, one of the European Parliament’s vice presidents. She suggested that the treaty governing Svalbard should be updated and even renegotiated.
Footnote: The Sptzbergen Treaty of 1920 , recognises the full and absolute sovereignty of Norway over all the arctic archipelago of Svalbard. The exercise of sovereignty is, however, subject to certain stipulations, and not all Norwegian law applies. Originally limited to nine signatory nations, over 40 are now signatories of the treaty.
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