Wed, Oct 10, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Honduras granted disputed islands by international court


The UN's International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Monday gave Honduras territorial rights to four islands disputed with Nicaragua, but set a new border between the neighbors in the Caribbean Sea.

The ruling, which representatives from both sides deemed "good for both countries," gives Nicaragua sovereignty over some 130,000km2 of territorial waters it was also claiming.

Tensions grew between the two countries after Honduras in late 1999 ratified a 1986 border treaty with Colombia, which Nicaragua said seized some of its territorial waters. Nicaragua took its complaint to the ICJ in December 1999.

The unanimous ruling by the court's 17 justices gives Honduras sovereignty over the Bobel, South, Savanna and Port Royal islands and keys within the area in dispute at the mouth of the Coco river.

It also negates Honduras' claim to the 15th parallel north as a maritime border with its neighbors, establishing instead a northeastern line extending seaward from the mouth of the Coco River that separates the two countries.

The new maritime border is a Solomonic solution to the dispute since it neither adheres to Honduras' claim of the 15th parallel as the borderline nor to Nicaragua's claim of the 17th.

The ICJ ruling was welcomed with a big hug by presidents Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Manuel Zelaya of Honduras in a meeting Monday in Ocotal, 220km north of Managua.

"Today we open a new chapter in the history of our two nations," Zelaya told hundreds of people gathered in the Nicaraguan city near the border with Honduras.

Ortega said his meeting with Zelaya marked "a historic day," adding that he felt "proud" about the way both governments received the ICJ's ruling.

"Ours is a brave stance because there are others interested in keeping us apart and in confrontation," Ortega said, alluding to Colombia's alleged attempt in a 1986 treaty with Honduras to seize territorial waters.

"This is the right road," Ortega said.

"The road to brotherhood and not to hatred, confrontation nor the road to warfare," he said.

"We want to sent a message to our people and outsiders that united we are invincible and that nobody can stop us from seeking joint solutions to the problems that beset us," Zelaya said.

Ortega said he would return Zelaya's visit in two weeks and discuss joint energy and economic projects.

The UN court's ruling was also welcomed by Colombia because it did not affect its claims to the San Andres archipelago in the Caribbean 800km from its shores and 200km east of Nicaragua, which Managua also lays claim to.

"The court ... abstained from taking any decision that might prejudge Colombia's rights in the area," Colombia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

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