Canada boosts frontier troops as Russia eyes Arctic

Canada is stepping up its military alertness along its northern frontier in response to Russia's "testing" of its boundaries and recent Arctic grab, the prime minister said Friday.

"We are concerned about not just Russia's claims through the international process, but Russia's testing of Canadian airspace and other indications ... (of) some desire to work outside of the international framework," said Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"That is obviously why we are taking a range of measures, including military measures, to strengthen our sovereignty in the North," he said, highlighting a new sensor net, navy patrols and a military training camp in the Arctic.

Five countries bordering the Arctic -- Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States -- claim overlapping parts of the region, which is estimated to hold 90 billion untapped barrels of oil.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) stipulates that any coastal state can claim territory 200 nautical miles from their shoreline and exploit the natural resources within that zone.

Nations can also extend that limit to up to 350 nautical miles from their coast if they can provide scientific proof that the undersea continental plate is a natural extension of their territory.

On Wednesday, Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev said his country must formally set its Arctic borders in the near future, citing its "strategic importance," thus skirting the strict international framework.

Nikolai Patrushev, Russia's national security council secretary, also said Moscow should control the Northern Sea Route, a passage that stretches from Asia to Europe across northern Russia.

Russian scientists last year planted a flag on the ocean floor beneath the North Pole in a symbolic bid to stake a claim over the region.

Moscow says its continental shelf extends along the Lomonosov Ridge, a mountain chain running underneath the Arctic. That claim has been rejected by Canada, Denmark, Norway and the US.

In 2001 Moscow submitted a request to the UN to extend its territory to the Lomonosov Ridge.

Canada and Denmark however also claim the ridge as an extension of their own continental shelves.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told reporters in Oslo on Thursday "it would be very unwise" for Russia to step outside the rules of the Law of the Sea to stake a claim.

"We are working through the international convention to map the Arctic Ocean and make the scientific cases for our various claims ... and will continue to work through the international process," commented Harper.

"We expect Russia to do the same," he said.

[Source: AFP, Ottawa, 19Sep08]

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