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Friday, 8 June, 2001, 02:03 GMT 03:03 UK
Arctic battleground for US missile plan
Thule airbase, Greenland
The US wants to upgrade its airbase in Greenland
By Humphrey Hawksley in Greenland

Greenland is deeply sceptical of US plans for missile defence.

One man in particular is determined to stop it happening - Aqaluk Loon, chairman of the Inuit Arctic Council.


If a war begins... Greenland will pay the highest price

Young father
His unlikely campaigning ground is one of the world's biggest countries, with one of the tiniest populations.

No crowds here - just 55,000 people on a land mass half the size of Europe, living in the Arctic wilds.

But Greenland is host to a US base - crucial for tracking hostile nuclear missiles.

"The Thule airbase is here," says Mr Loon, pointing to a map. "And this is the radar system connected to Fylingdales in the UK and the base in Alaska.

"This is the shield the Americans want to build - and this here is the missile highway to hell - west Greenland."

Opposition

Out in early summer, with the temperature just above zero, Mr Loon canvasses in the not-so-busy capital, called Nuuk.

Greenland
Greenland's small population does not want the US plan
"If a war begins, you know all the missiles will begin to rain over us. Greenland will pay the highest price," says a young father.

A shop worker says: "I don't want it."

And a student joins the attack: "It's an imperialistic policy only in the interests of the West."

In effect, the Thule airbase is US territory - with state-of-the-art radar and satellite tracking equipment, which would be upgraded under the US plan.

Man
Student: The US has an imperialistic policy
In the 1950s, when the base was built, Greenland was promised that no nuclear weapons would be kept there. In the 1990s, a secret memo came to light proving that that promise had been broken.

Members of Greenland's minuscule parliament reflect opposition to the plan - but the final say is far away in Denmark, which has promised to listen.

"Of course, this is in principle a formality and decision of the government of Denmark, but in reality it will have to include a consensus between Denmark and the people of Greenland," says the Danish Foreign Minister, Mogens Lykketoft.

The people of Denmark, together with the people of Greenland about 4,800km (3,000 miles) away, could end up making or breaking the missile defence system.

If they do not want it, and it seems pretty certain they do not, the key US tracking base near the North Pole will be taken out of the frame.

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See also:

29 May 01 | Europe
Nato baulks at US missile plan
01 May 01 | Americas
Hurdles for US missile defence plans
20 Feb 01 | Sci/Tech
'Star Wars' makes a comeback
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