North Korea says it has been granted access to pursue commercial activities on Svalbard, the Arctic archipelago under the sovereignty of Norway but governed by a century-old international treaty.
Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Ane Lunde told the Oslo-based daily Aftenposten on Wednesday that Norway has not yet been notified of North Korea's access to the islands. In a report that went largely unnoticed last week, Pyongyang declared it had gained access via a treaty that has governed activity on the arctic archipelago for nearly a century. North Korea's accession to the treaty would provide the country with an "international guarantee for conducting economic activities and scientific research in the Svalbard Islands" reported the Pyongyang-run Korean Central News Agency.
The 1920 Svalbard Treaty was signed between Norway and several other countries establishing Norwegian sovereignty over Svalbard, which is one of the world's northernmost inhabited areas, some 817 miles from the North Pole. The exercise of sovereignty is, however, subject to certain stipulations, and the signatories were given equal rights to engage in commercial activities (mainly coal mining) on the islands. There are currently 42 treaty parties.
New countries to ratify the treaty must do so via France, where the original agreement was signed. "France will then notify the other contracting parties, which can take some time," Lunde says.
The foreign ministry spokeswoman, however, rejected the claim from Korean Central News Agency that the Svalbard Treaty regulates research, stating that "the ratification of the treaty gives no such exclusive rights."