Islands - Challenge in the Atlantic

FAR too often small or somewhat isolated communities are allowed to remain on the margins of history, pressing their concerns upon a world that seems unwilling to listen. But it is precisely when the world chooses not to hear that such disputes can take on an unfortunate life of their own. One need only recall the tragic Falkland Islands dispute between Argentina and Britain back in 1982 to underscore how potentially serious such regional conflicts can become. Having noted that, guess what's back in the news? If you said ``the Falkland Islands'' you are right. Britain has announced a new 150-mile fishing zone around the Falklands (or Malvinas). London has further said that it reserves the right to impose a 200-mile zone around the islands. Argentina, which has stirred the waters of the South Atlantic itself by signing fishing agreements with the Soviet Union and Bulgaria in July, is protesting the British decision. The Organization of American States, including the United States, has joined the fray by criticizing Britain. The Argentine-Soviet fishing pact, meanwhile, yet to be ratified by the Argentine Chamber of Deputies, would allow the Argentines and Soviets to catch fish in a 200-mile zone off Argentina. What all this adds up to is that Argentina and Britain are bumping into each other with their rival zoning claims.

Nor is the Falklands the only such island-and-waters controversy. Iceland, in the North Atlantic, is having more than its share of difficulties with environmentalists opposed to that nation's whaling industry. A militant group calling itself the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society claims credit for having scuttled two of Iceland's four whaling vessels and damaging one of the nation's two whaling plants. Iceland, the group says, is continuing to whale in violation of a current world moratorium on whaling.

Surely the global community can help find solutions to such controversies. In the case of the Falklands dispute, there are ample channels for resolution, assuming the parties themselves seem unable to work out some form of modus vivendi. One side can take the dispute to the World Court.

Or there could be a private, third-party arbitration, as Argentina and Chile finally had a few years ago involving contested territorial claims.

In the case of whaling, obviously extremist acts cannot be justified. Iceland is right in seeking extradition of those parties involved, so that they can be brought to trial before Iceland's legal system. At the same time, Iceland should honor the current moratorium on whaling.

Reykjavik says it is merely conducting ``research'' on whales, though over 100 whales have apparently been slaughtered this year, with the byproducts sold abroad. Other nations could refuse to buy Icelandic goods that use whale byproducts. Meantime, other nations could provide economic or technical assistance to the local Icelandic industries dependent on whaling.

In this age of global interlinkage, there should be no isolated isles of discontent struggling with problems that seem beyond resolution.

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