Man lays claim to African land to make daughter real life ‘princess’

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ABINGDON, Va. -- This dad is really raising the bar for birthdays.

Jeremiah Heaton, 38, has laid claim to 800 square miles of land in northeastern Africa. Why? So 7-year old-daughter can be a real princess.

Heaton is a father of three, lives in Virginia, works in the mining industry and ran for a state congressional seat in 2012. His effort to become a king first came to fruition after a winter afternoon spent playing with his daughter Emily.

“She got this very serious tone, and could tell her demeanor had changed,” Heaton told CNN. “She looked at me and said daddy, will I ever be a real princess?”

Heaton was taken aback.

“As a parent, you never want to tell a child they can't be something,” Heaton said. “If she had if she could she be a doctor or lawyer, the answer most certainly would have been yes. So I responded with ‘yes’ as a reply.”

After that, Heaton was met with a dose of reality: “I’m a parent that doesn’t like to make false promises.” So he began researching disputed regions across the world, and explained to CNN why he settled on Bir Tawil, a desolate plot of land on the border between Egypt and Sudan.

“Bir Tawil is basically a byproduct of a British colonial dispute over a boundary,” Heaton said. “Britain drew the line in 1899, and three years later Egypt decided they wanted to move the line to the 22 parallel.”

Out of that dispute came a fight for the region just to the right of Bir Tawil, Heaton said, which is known as the Hala’ib Triangle.

“The Hala’ib Triangle is a far more valuable and larger piece of land,” Heaton said. “So for over 100 years, Bir Tawil has been left unclaimed in the dust bin of governance. So it was very exciting that it was still able to be one of the last pieces of ground on earth waiting to be claimed.”

But Heaton said he doesn't plan to rest on his laurels after naming his daughter princess of this desolate land, which he plans to rename the Kingdom of North Sudan. He told The Guardian newspaper he plans to launch a website to spell out his vision for the new country, which includes an initial development strategy based on “four pillars”; innovative agricultural production, renewable energy, digital freedom and digital currency.

Heaton admitted these are “lofty goals,” especially considering his claim to Bir Tawil is yet to be recognized by Egypt, Sudan and the rest of the international community. There’s also the fact that the desert-dwelling Bedouin tribe has been known to roam the territory.

When pressed about those details by The Guardian, Heaton appeared undeterred, saying his travel to the region was approved by Egyptian authorities, who he said “appeared positive” about his plans, and that the few Bedouins he encountered “welcomed” his ideas.

As for the suggestion that what he is doing might be considered a form of colonialism, Heaton insisted his approach "is the exact opposite of colonialism."

"The dictionary defines colonialism as one country taking control of another to exploit its resources or people," Heaton said. "Bir Tawil is not a country, it does not have a population and I don’t represent the U.S. or a corporation. I’m an individual, and I'm not going to dig for diamonds or drill for oil or build a pipeline.

"What we’re doing is designed to improve people’s lives.”

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