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Dane runs from Kabul to Ottawa

By Carl Meyer      

Niels Boel Abrahamsen ran a half marathon within a month of presenting his credentials.

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Niels Boel Abrahamsen couldn’t wait to hit the ground running in Ottawa. As soon as he arrived, he made a break for the 2013 Army Run half marathon.

“That was a great experience,” the new Danish ambassador recalled in his office near Ottawa’s bustling ByWard Market on Sept. 23.

“I didn’t get to do a lot of marathons in Kabul,” he said. 

Mr. Abrahamsen, who received his credentials on Aug. 27, was last posted to Afghanistan, which—depending on where you are—may not be the safest place to scamper about. 

For a runner, this means having to train indoors. By comparison, the crisp atmosphere of the Ottawa Valley is quite literally a breath of fresh air. 

“It was great being able to run outside,” he said.

In Afghanistan, Danish troops have been stationed in Helmand Province, next door to Kandahar, the location of the former Canadian combat mission. Mr. Abrahamsen was posted to Kabul, working with the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force.

He said when he visited Danish soldiers at Camp Bastion, the sprawling Helmand Province base that accommodated British, American, Danish and other troops, he would always go for a jog.

“The camp is so big that you can actually do a full marathon within the perimeter. We didn’t do a full marathon, but we would do a 10k in the morning” before it got too hot, he said.

Mr. Abrahamsen is a career diplomat who has spent about two decades with the Danish foreign service. An economist by training, he began at the Ministry of Finance in Copenhagen in 1991, moving to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs two years later. He has worked in Vienna and Washington. 

He has also held several positions in the foreign ministry in Copenhagen, including as head of section in the European Union department, deputy head of finance, and head of security.


Visited Nunavut

He has been to Canada before, on a business trip to Ottawa in 2004. Since arriving for his posting, he visited Iqaluit in late August and met with officials from the Nunavut government. 

Danish diplomats in Canada are often focused on the Davis Strait, which lies between Greenland—part of the Kingdom of Denmark—and Baffin Island, part of Nunavut. 

Mr. Abrahamsen is no exception; he spoke of the cultural and linguistic similarities of the communities on both sides of the strait. 

He is also familiar with Canada from having worked with the Canadian Embassy in Kabul. 

“We did some development co-operation projects together, in the area of education, especially the education of girls,” he said.

“It was a very interesting, very rewarding professional experience to work in Afghanistan…at this special juncture of Afghan history.” 

At the time of the interview, he had met with the governor general and officials in Canada’s foreign affairs department. He said he was looking forward to Parliament opening, so he could meet more Canadian politicians. 

“I see one of the most important tasks for me in Canada is to promote the economic and trade ties, investment ties between Denmark and Canada, to promote growth and jobs in both countries,” he said.

Denmark’s last man in Canada, Erik Vilstrup Lorenzen, became Denmark’s senior Arctic official, and returns to Canada next week to partake in the Arctic Council meeting in Whitehorse. Mr. Abrahamsen said he looked forward to working with Canadians both within the Arctic Council and on bilateral projects relating to the Arctic. 

“We believe that we should use the natural assets that we have in the North,” he said.

He is married to Karen Eva Lind Abrahamsen and has two sons. After finding out his new posting, he came to Ottawa briefly in the spring to enroll the kids in school, and to prepare them for the school year, he said. 

“I thought they would enjoy knowing where they were going, instead of just landing in Ottawa late August and not having any idea of what would happen come Labour Day,” he said.

His kids didn’t follow him to Afghanistan for security reasons, so the move to Ottawa would be their first in years.

“I wanted them to come see the house where they were going to live, see the school they were going to attend, and meet some of the teachers. I thought that that would make them more happy about leaving their friends and school.”



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