February 2, 2018 / 11:37 AM / 6 months ago

U.N. court hands Costa Rica territorial victories over Nicaragua

THE HAGUE/SAN JOSE (Reuters) - Costa Rica claimed victory over Nicaragua on Friday, after the United Nations’ highest court awarded Costa Rica disputed territory along the coastal border shared by the two Central American countries.

FILE PHOTO: Nicaraguan protesters stake their claim to Isla Portillos, a restricted swath of land near Costa Rica and Nicaragua's border, as a team of Costa Rican environment experts and representatives of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands inspect the area for environmental damage April 5, 2011. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate/File Photo

Nicaragua was ordered by the International Court of Justice in The Hague to remove a military base from a contested coastal area near the San Juan river, which the judges said violated Costa Rican sovereignty.

The court’s panel of 15 international judges also found that Costa Rica has sovereignty over the “whole northern part of Isla Portillos, including the coast,” but excluding Harbour Head Lagoon.

Costa Rica’s President Luis Guillermo Solis called the decision “historic,” while Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez said it was very close to what the country had asked for.

In a separate case heard at the court earlier on Friday, Nicaragua was ordered to pay Costa Rica nearly $379,000 dollars - less than it had asked for - in reparations for environmental damage to parts of its wetlands at the mouth of the disputed San Juan river.

FILE PHOTO: Environmental officials inspect Isla Portillos, a 16-square-km swath of Caribbean wetland at the center of a dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua April 5, 2011. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate/File Photo

Costa Rica should be compensated by April 2 for damage caused, the cost of environmental restoration, expenses and interest, the court said.

“The amount is not what we hoped for, but we accept fully and respectfully what the court decided,” Gonzalez said. “Nicaragua has a valuable opportunity to rebuild trust between the two countries and close the chapters that have distanced us in recent years.”

Nicaragua’s government called the environmental verdict a “major defeat for Costa Rica” in a statement. It did not comment on the other cases.

FILE PHOTO: Three representatives of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands look for environmental damage on Isla Portillos, a 16-square-km swath of Caribbean wetland at the center of a dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua April 5, 2011. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate/File Photo

As part of the border settlement, the court drew a new maritime boundary between the states, who have had rival claims since 2002, when Nicaragua published maps detailing oil concessions. Some of those were in waters claimed by Costa Rica.

Costa Rica had filed the suit in 2014, asking the court to determine its borders with Nicaragua in the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean.

In 2010, Nicaragua sent soldiers to open an artificial waterway to divert water from the San Juan River that divides both countries to a nearby Nicaraguan lake, in what Costa Rica saw as a move to shorten its territory. Nicaragua said it was dredging a natural waterway.

Writing by Anthony Deutsch and Christine Murray; Editing by William Maclean and Rosalba O'Brien

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