Greenlanders lose battle over airbase

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The Independent Online

Denmark's Supreme Court has upheld a ruling that the government's expropriation of the land of a group of native Greenlanders for the expansion of a US air base in the 1950s was legal.

The Danish government forcibly removed 132 people - 27 families - from their ancestral land in 1953 so that the US air base in Thule, northern Greenland, could be expanded. The families of the Uummannaq settlement were resettled 75 miles north of their 1,000-year-old habitat.

The court also said that it had "found no reason" to increase the Dkr500,000 (£47,000) compensation that the lower Eastern High Court had awarded in 1999 to the group representing the hunters and their descendants.

The plaintiffs, calling themselves Hingitaq 1953 - Greenlandic for "Outcasts 1953" - had appealed against the ruling and demanded Dkr235m in compensation for lost living and hunting grounds. "I am disappointed by the Supreme Court's ruling," said Ussaaqqak Qujaukitsoq, a spokesman for the plaintiffs. Mr Qujaukitsoq, who was four when his family was moved, was wearing polar bear trousers, the traditional costume of northern Greenland Inuits.

The Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said he was "satisfied that this case now has ended before the country's highest court".

In 1951, Denmark, which is a Nato member, signed a defence agreement with the United States to allow four US bases on the world's largest island and semi-autonomous Danish territory. Only Thule, 745 miles below the North Pole, is still operating.

Christian Harlang, the lawyer representing the Greenlanders, said he would recommend to Hingitaq 1953 that the issue be presented to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.