Colombia, Nicaragua want to avoid war over water rights dispute

MEXICO CITY Sat Dec 1, 2012 3:29pm EST

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The presidents of Colombia and Nicaragua on Saturday both said they hoped to avoid war and use dialogue instead to solve a dispute over a recent U.N. court ruling that shifted some of Colombia's resource-rich water to the Central America country.

The Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) earlier this month shocked Colombia by giving a large expanse of its fishing and potentially oil rich maritime territory to Nicaragua while handing some disputed islands to Colombia in a binding ruling.

Nicaragua's economic exclusion zone in the Caribbean was expanded by the ruling, giving it access to potential offshore oil and gas deposits as well as fishing rights.

Since the ruling, Colombia has withdrawn from a treaty that bounds the country to the U.N. court's decisions, and both nations now have warships in the disputed waters.

"We are totally discarding the use of force," said Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, speaking on the sidelines of the inauguration of new Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in Mexico City. He added that the country would use communication to achieve peace in the dispute.

Colombia's Santos echoed Ortega, but he did not take war off the table completely.

"Of course no one wants a war, that is a last resort ... The way to fix these types of situations is by entering into dialogue," said Santos.

He also took pains to note that Colombia would keep seeking to "reestablish the rights that this decision violated," through the international court itself and international diplomacy.

The court decision angered Colombians who have staged marches nationwide in protest and called for Santos to defy the ruling and maintain the sovereign territory.

Thousands of Colombians living on islands between the two nations rely on fishing rights in the Caribbean waters and are worried the ruling will ruin their livelihood.

Nicaragua's Ortega has said he expects Colombia to recognize the court's decision.

(Additional reporting by Bernd Debusmann Jr and Rodolfo Pena Roja; Editing by Simon Gardner and Sandra Maler)

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