Dutch to resume waterway work after Belgium row

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Dutch foreign minister vows to resume work on enlarging the western Scheldt river after Belgium urges them to honour a 2005 treaty.

The Hague – The Netherlands vowed Wednesday to quickly resume work on a waterway aimed at improving access to the huge Belgian port of Antwerp after its suspension angered Belgium.

"You can take it that the western Scheldt river will be deepened without any further delay," Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen told reporters in The Hague after talks with his visiting Belgian counterpart Yves Leterme.

He said the Netherlands had taken "serious" note of Belgium's concerns on the issue.

In July, the Council of State, an advisory body to the Dutch government, ordered a halt to the enlargement of the tributary of the Scheldt river in response to concerns from environmentalists.

It said a final decision on the enlargement would be made later in the year. Work on the Belgian side of the project had already begun.

The expansion was aimed at allowing larger container ships along the channel from the southern Netherlands to Antwerp, Europe's second largest after the Dutch port of Rotterdam.

Verhagen said the Netherlands would take a decision "in the very short term" on how to honour a treaty signed with Belgium in 2005 for the tributary's enlargement.

He did not say how the government planned to get around the council ruling.

Leterme said diplomatic cooperation between the two countries, which often take common positions on international issues, were "put to the test" by the issue. He added he had "taken note" of the Dutch government's new intentions.

In response to the freezing of the Dutch part of the project, Antwerp municipal politicians called for a boycott of mussels from the Dutch province of Zeeland, of which the Belgians are major consumers.

Earlier, Antwerp Mayor Patrick Janssens told a Belgian newspaper that he would lodge a claim for damages if the Netherlands continued "procrastinating".

AFP / Expatica

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