France urges Canada to cooperate over dispute

14th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

France is laying claim to the North Atlantic seabed around the islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon and has asked Canada to cooperate.

Paris – France said Wednesday it was laying claim to the North Atlantic seabed around the islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon and called on Canada to cooperate to find a solution to the dispute.

A preliminary request for extending French waters up to 350 nautical miles off the coast of the French archipelago was presented to a special UN commission on Friday, the foreign ministry said.

"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 foreign ministry spokesman Frederic Desagneaux.

"We would like to have a constructive dialogue with Canada to promote the economic integration of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon in the regional environment," he said.

"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."

The waters south of Canada's Newfoundland province are believed to hold vast oil reserves and the French government is under pressure from struggling islanders to stake a claim to the seabed.

Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner discussed the French move with his Canadian counterpart Lawrence Cannon during their Paris meeting on April 2 after Canada made clear it was ready to fight the decision.

Canada insists the maritime dispute was settled in 1992 by a decision of 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 March.

The arbitration court in 1992 awarded France an economic zone around the two islands.

"Canada will take all necessary measures to defend and protect its rights with respect to its continental shelf," said the minister.

Paris decided to present its claim to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, which sets boundaries beyond the 200 nautical miles of internationally-recognized territorial waters.

Populated by some 6,000 descendants of French fishermen, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon were granted to France in the 1763 Treaty of Paris. But the territory is completely surrounded by Canadian waters.

Local residents, still reeling from the cod fisheries collapse of the 1990s, are frustrated at not being able to participate in an offshore oil boom benefitting only Newfoundland.

The request at the UN commission also concerns extending the sea bed boundaries around French Polynesia and the territory of Wallis and Futuna in the South Pacific.

AFP / Expatica

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