UPDATE 1-Canada raps France bid for Atlantic shelf rights

Wed Mar 25, 2009 9:22pm GMT

(Adds French reaction)

OTTAWA, March 25 (Reuters) - Canada criticized France on Wednesday for trying to claim exploration rights off Canada's East Coast, home to rich reserves of natural resources.

Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said Ottawa "will take all necessary measures to defend and protect its rights with respect to its continental shelf".

The dispute concerns the two tiny French islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, which sit just off the coast of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Cannon said France had revived a claim for rights to an extended continental shelf from the two islands despite a bilateral agreement in June 1992, which he said had settled the matter once and for all.

"Canada does not recognize France's claim to any area of the continental shelf in the northwest Atlantic Ocean beyond the area set out in the arbitration decision," he said in a statement. "Canada has made France aware of its position on several occasions."

Just over 6,000 people live on the tiny islands, the only remnants of colonial New France.

Canadian media reports from Paris say the islanders have been pressing France for the right to gain access to the same offshore oil reserves that Canada says lie in its waters.

The French embassy in Ottawa said the 1992 agreement referred to the islands' economic exclusive zone and not the continental shelf.

An embassy spokesman said France had had a deadline of May 2009 for submitting claims on control over the continental shelf and acted because time was running out.

"There have to be more studies made. We wanted to make sure that France had done everything it had to on time," he said. (Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Peter Galloway)

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