UN court to head Costa Rica-Nicaragua dispute

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A panel of 15 UN judges will hear arguments next week in a bid by Costa Rica to force Nicaraguan troops out of territory it claims has been unlawfully occupied in a long-running border dispute.

Stating that the troops' presence gave rise to a "threat of armed conflict", Costa Rica asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in November last year to order their "immediate and unconditional withdrawal".

"The ongoing presence of Nicaraguan armed forces on Costa Rica's territory is contributing to a political situation of extreme hostility and tension," San Jose said in a request for provisional measures pending the judges' ultimate ruling in the dispute, which can take years.

The applicant country says Nicaragua, which rejects all the claims, was illegally occupying territory in order to construct a canal across Costa Rican territory from the San Juan River to the Harbor Head Lagoon.

This also involved unauthorised dredging since October 2010 of the San Juan River that serves as a frontier between the two Central American neighbours.

"Nicaragua rejected all calls for withdrawal of its armed forces from the occupied territory and all means of negotiation," Costa Rica said, demanding reparations.

No date has been set for the ICJ to consider the main application.

Next week's hearings, starting on Tuesday, will focus on Costa Rica's request for interim measures which include the "immediate cessation of the construction of a canal across Costa Rican territory" and the suspension of dredging.

Nicaraguan ambassador to the Netherlands, Carlos Arguello, told AFP ahead of the hearing that "none of the claims of Costa Rica are founded.

"They are using maps of more than a hundred years old," he said -- adding that Nicaragua was not building a channel but had merely "cleaned up the river".

In a separate case, the ICJ ruled in July last year that Costa Rica had the right to use a disputed section of the San Juan river for commerce and tourism, but said Nicaragua could impose certain controls.

Passengers on Costa Rican vessels required no Nicaraguan visas, but had to carry passports or identity documents and stop at two Nicaraguan posts along the route, judges found.

© 2011 AFP

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