November 19, 2012 / 11:17 PM / 5 years ago

U.N. court ruling expands Nicaragua's offshore rights

A general view of the Caribbean island of San Andres is seen April 30, 2012. The International Court of Justice said on November 19, a cluster of disputed islets in the western Caribbean belonged to Colombia and not to Nicaragua, but drew a demarcation line that expands Nicaragua's economic exclusion zone in the Caribbean. Picture taken April 30, 2012. REUTERS/John Vizcaino

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The International Court of Justice ruled on Monday that a cluster of disputed small islands in the western Caribbean belonged to Colombia and not to Nicaragua, but drew a demarcation line in favor of Nicaragua in the nearby waters.

The court said the territorial waters extending out from the seven islets, which are nearer Nicaragua’s coast than Colombia‘s, should not cut into Nicaragua’s continental shelf. The ruling reduced the expanse of ocean belonging to Colombia.

The decision, which is binding, increases the size of Nicaragua’s continental shelf and economic exclusion zone in the Caribbean, potentially giving it access to underwater oil and gas deposits as well as fishing rights.

“The court agrees that the achievement of an equitable solution requires a line of delimitation to allow the parties to attain their maritime rights in a mutually balanced way,” said Peter Tomka, presiding judge.

In 2007, the court, which is based in The Hague, ruled in a long-running dispute between the two countries that the three larger islands of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina belonged to Colombia.

Children play on the beach in the Caribbean island of San Andres in this April 30, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/John Vizcaino/Files

The ruling on Monday related to a further seven islets and the associated offshore rights surrounding them. The three larger islands have been controlled by Colombia since Nicaragua ceded them in a 1928 treaty.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos rejected the changes to the border, which effectively put some islands outside of the rest of the archipelago, saying the ruling had “omissions, mistakes, excesses, inconsistencies, that we can not accept”.

A general view of the Caribbean island of San Andres is seen this April 30, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/John Vizcaino/Files

“Colombia ... emphatically rejects that aspect of the judgment the Court has issued,” he said in a statement.

“Therefore, we do not rule out any action or mechanism granted to us by international law to defend our rights.”

The cluster of islands is over 700 km (437 miles) from the Colombian coast but only 200 km (125 miles) from Nicaragua.

“This is the best result we could hope for,” Carlos Arguello, Nicaragua’s representative before The Hague, told local television. “The court has awarded us an big maritime area.”

Reporting by Thomas Escritt, Helen Murphy in Bogota and Ivan Castro in Managua; Editing by Alison Williams and Todd Eastham

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