Costa Rica warns of 'aggravation' in Nicaragua dispute
Costa Rica warned Tuesday of a "serious aggravation" in a territorial dispute with Nicaragua, accusing it before a world court of "provocation" with its troops in the contested border area.
"There is the risk that a serious aggravation of the conflict could occur as a result of the Nicaraguan behaviour," Edgar Ugalde Alvarez, Costa Rica's ambassador to Colombia, told the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.
Costa Rica claimed Nicaraguan troops were illegally occupying an area of three square kilometres (1.16 square miles) in its north-east in a move that "endangers stability and peace between two brother countries".
"Costa Rica will not allow itself to be intimidated and will not accept anybody trying to impose on it a fait accompli," the ambassador said of Nicaragua's ongoing dredging of the San Juan river that serves as a border between the Central American neighbours.
San Jose wants the ICJ to order the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Nicaraguan troops it claims are illegally occupying land to enable the construction of a canal across Costa Rican territory.
It also wants an end to the dredging, which it claims will impede the flow of water to its own Colorado River.
Alvarez insisted his country was committed to finding a peaceful settlement in spite of its neighbour's "continuing provocation", and said the court case was partly an attempt "to protect human life in Costa Rica and Nicaragua".
"Up until now there have not been any victims as a result of military action by Nicaragua, but that has been entirely due to the responsible approach of my government ... not to answer force with force."
Nicaragua's ambassador to the Netherlands, Carlos Arguello Gomez, told the court that Costa Rica was trying "to start an international scandal" over what he called "a swamp of three square kilometres".
"It is a repetition of what has been happening for nearly two centuries," he told the judges. "Any time Nicaragua tries to make use of the San Juan river, Costa Rica finds reason for a dispute."
Alvarez claimed that Nicaragua's dredging of the San Juan river had damaged fragile eco-systems, forests and wetlands and risked affecting large sections of Costa Rica's northern border.
But Arguello responded that Nicaragua exercised de facto jurisdiction over the disputed area, and said the work that Costa Rica objected to was "scarcely more than a minor cleaning operation".
"The river was being heavily silted and polluted by Costa Rican operations," he said, adding that without the dredging work, the river mouth would dry up within decades, destroying Nicaraguan wetlands.
Arguello said the court could not order Nicaragua to stop patrolling the area or risk it becoming "a no-go area for bandits, especially drug traffickers".
The ICJ on Tuesday started hearing three days' of arguments in Costa Rica's request for urgent provisional measures pending the judges' ultimate ruling in the territorial dispute, which can take years.
Nicaragua asked the court to dismiss its neighbour's application.
© 2011 AFP