May 14, 2009
France And Canada Collide Over Sea Bed Dispute
On Wednesday, France announced that is was claiming the North Atlantic seabed surrounding the islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, and is requesting that Canada cooperate in finding a resolution to the dispute.
A special UN commission was presented a preliminary request to extend French waters up to 350 nautical miles off the coast of the French archipelago on Friday, said the French foreign ministry.
"Our objective is to reach with Canada, which was given advance notice of our demarche, a mutually-advantageous approach to managing our shared interests in this zone," said Frederic Desagneaux, spokesman for the foreign ministry.
"We would like to have a constructive dialogue with Canada to promote the economic integration of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon in the regional environment."
"French-Canadian cooperation is obviously fundamental. Whether it be on the issue of fisheries, maritime and air transport, oil exploration, we must find solutions together," he added.
The French government is under pressure from struggling islanders to stake claim to the seabed because the waters south of Canada's Newfoundland province are believed to hold vast amounts of oil.
On April 2, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner spoke with Canadian Prime Minister Lawrence Cannon during a meeting in Paris after the Canadian government made it clear that they would fight the decision.
According to Canada, the dispute was settled in 1992 by the international arbitration court.
"Canada does not recognize France's claim to any area of the continental shelf in the northwest Atlantic Ocean beyond the area set out in the arbitration decision, and Canada has made France aware of its position on several occasions, and again recently," said Cannon.
In 1992, the arbitration court gave France an economic zone near the two islands.
"Canada will take all necessary measures to defend and protect its rights with respect to its continental shelf," added Cannon.
France has presented its claim to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, which sets the boundaries of international territorial waters beyond 200 nautical miles.
Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, which are populated with nearly 6,000 French descendants, were given to France in the 1763 Treaty of Paris. Canadian waters completely surround the territories.
Local residents are frustrated that they are unable to participant in the offshore oil boom that is benefiting Newfoundland.
In the 1990's, the cod fishery collapse caused economic shockwaves in the French controlled territories that are still being felt today.
The French request given to the UN is also requesting the expansion of sea bed boundaries around French Polynesia and the territory of Wallis and Futuna in the South Pacific.
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