BOGOTA Colombia will not apply a U.N. court ruling that shifts some of its resource-rich waters to Nicaragua until the Andean nation is sure that "the rights of Colombians are well defended," President Juan Manuel Santos said on Thursday.
The Hague-based International Court of Justice last week shocked Colombia by reducing a large expanse of its maritime territory, drawing the border in favor of Nicaragua while giving a cluster of disputed islands to Bogota in a binding ruling.
"I'm not going to apply that ruling by the court in The Hague until guaranteeing that the rights of Colombians are well defended," Santos said in a speech. Santos did not specify which rights he wanted guaranteed.
"I am going to set out, morning, noon and night, to ensure that we recover the rights that were violated."
Both countries have warships in the area.
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 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.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has said he expects Colombia to recognize the court's decision, but Bogota could reject it and instead seek to negotiate a new border pact.
On Wednesday, Colombia withdrew from a treaty that bound the country to the U.N. court's decisions, but the action does not have retroactive impact.
(Reporting by Jack Kimball and Helen Murphy; Editing by Leslie Adler)