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EU, NATO fear conflicts in High North

EU, NATO fear conflicts in High North 11.03.2008 Ice melting will make new areas in the Arctic accessible, thus increasing the chances for conflict in not yet delineated areas, a new EU document is reported to state. Meanwhile, a Norwegian researcher says Norway and Russia now should hurry to delineate their 155,000 square kilometre disputed area in the Barents Sea.

According to newspaper the Guardian, a new official seven-page EU document, written by the EU's two top foreign policy representatives, Javier Solana and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, expresses concern about the conflict potential in the Arctic and the Barents Sea. The document is reportedly on the agenda when EU heads of states meets in Brussels this week. The issue will according to the Guardian also be on the table when NATO leaders meet in Bucurest later next month.

Sources in NATO especially fear for relations between Russia and Norway following increasing interest in hydrocarbon reserves in the waters around Spitsbergen. Norway demands sovereignty over these waters, while the rest of the world society has been reluctant to express support. Russia has itself had a high level of activities at Spitsbergen and is unlikely to let Norway easily get its will on the archipelago.

Meanwhile, Russia has the last year stepped up its bid for Arctic shelf. With the heavy support from the Kremlin, researchers have initiated several major expeditions intended to help prove Russian sovereignty over major parts of the Arctic, included the North Pole. The Russian Arctic ambitions were displayed clearly enough in the Arctic-2007 expedition when two mini-subs submerged to the North Pole seabed to plant a Russian flag.

Norwegian polar explorer and scientist Olav Orheim now stresses to newspaper Aftenposten that Norway and Russia should hurry to find solutions to the delineation of their disputed zone in the Barents Sea. The not yet delineated zone, a 175,000 square kilometre area located between the two countries, could not only hinder industrial developments in the area, but also be a source of conflict.

In a report from 2004, Mr. Orheim proposed to quickly find a solution to the disputed zone problem and then agree about a Barents Sea Agreement with Russia. He says that the proposal now is being supported by a growing number of people.

Source: www.barentsobserver.com

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