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Independence talk heats up chilly Greenland

July 31, 1997
Web posted at: 9:30 p.m. EDT (0130 GMT)

From Reporter Michael Skinner

GODTHAB, Greenland (CNN) -- Greenland may be among the world's chilliest nations, but these days, talk of independence is heating things up.

The notion of cutting ties to the mother country, Denmark, was raised earlier this year during an address by Greenland's prime minister. The world's largest island, with just 55,000 people, has had home rule since 1979 but is still technically part of Denmark.

"We could become totally independent without necessarily breaking all ties," says Johan Lund Olsen of the Inuit Brotherhood, which represents an island native group. "We could perhaps have the kind of relationship the United Kingdom has with Australia and Canada."

The impetus for the sudden rush towards independence seems to be oil. About 150 kilometers (93 miles) off the Greenland coast, and 1,100 meters (3,630 feet) below the Arctic Ocean, lie oil reserves that may be as large as those in the North Sea.

"The only problem is it's very, very high risk, so the chances [of success] are very low," says Lars Beksgaard, exploration manager for Nuna Oil. "But if it comes in, it is very big. It would mean a lot of difference in Greenland."

Right now, the economic mainstays in Greenland (which inhabitants call Kalaallit Nunaat, or Land of the People) are shrimping and fishing. Denmark also subsidizes Greenland to the tune of $358 million a year -- about $6,500 for every man, woman and child on the island.

Martens

Given that heavy dependence on Denmark, talk of an independent Greenland amuses Copenhagen's man on the island.

"We have never met a situation where the Greenlanders ... or Greenlandic politicians, have asked the Danish government (to) send no more money," says Gunnar Martens, Danish high commissioner to Greenland. "They always say the opposite."

But Greenlanders have shown an independent streak before. In 1985, they left the European Community. And independence may not be a laughing matter if the oil fields do pan out and Greenland becomes truly green -- with the color of money.

 
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