Court rules Nicaragua to remove troops from Calero

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    Henriette Jacobsen,

    The International Court of Justice in The Hague has ruled that Nicaragua must remove its troops from Isla Calero, the small island on the south side of Rio San Juan.

    The world court lead magistrate, Hisashi Owada, read a four point ruling: Costa Rica and Nicaragua must refrain from sending more personnel to the disputed territory and leave the area, Costa Rica may dispatch environment personnel to the area after consultation with Nicaragua, both parties must abstain from aggravating or extending the dispute further, and both countries should inform the court if they had any difficulties following the court rulings.

    In October 2010, a dispute began between Costa Rica and Nicaragua concerning the dredging of the 21 mile San Juan River by the Nicaraguan government in the area of Isla Calero. Costa Rica claimed that Nicaraguan troops had entered Costa Rican territory, and that the dredging caused environmental damage in a nature reserve that is owned by the Costa Rican Ministry of the Environment. Nicaragua rejected all claims. Costa Rica responded by sending 70 police reinforcements to the border area while Nicaragua stationed around 50 soldiers in Isla Calero. In November, the Organization of American States (OAS) recommended the troops should leave the area, but Nicaragua did not follow their advice.

    Both nations see victory

    After the court ruling both Costa Rica and Nicaragua claimed victory. Costa Rica’s Foreign Minister René Castro who was in The Hague to receive the ruling said:

    We are completely satisfied with the ruling as it will put an immediate stop to Nicaraguan invasion of Costa Rica. The ruling sets an international precedent that other countries that choose not to have military will have their sovereign rights upheld by international diplomatic bodies.

    Nicaragua also applauded the court’s decision according to the county’s media. The media first reported that Nicaragua will continue the dredging of the Rio San Juan because Costa Rica did not demonstrate that the dredging caused environmental damage. The ruling said as follows:

    Whereas it cannot be concluded at this stage from the evidence adduced by the Parties that the dredging of the San Juan river is creating a risk of irreparable prejudice to Costa Rica’s environment or to the flow of the Colorado river; whereas nor has it been shown that, even if there were such a risk of prejudice to rights Costa Rica claims in the present case, the risk would be imminent.”

    But Nicaraguan officials said the dredging operation was concluded and moved upriver and that they had already removed troops from the disputed area.

    The President of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, appeared on national television after the ruling and said:

    It is not important to say who won and who lost. We are satisfied with the sentence of the court and we will obey it. Of course we will obey it.

    Might take years before final decision

    Laura Chinchilla, the President of Costa Rica, praised the court decision. In a public conference held at the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) in San José, she addressed her people:

    Today is a day of jubilation. Our country has won an overwhelming and justified victory thanks to our best weapons of defense: the weapons of peace, international rights and multilateral system.

    Though both nations seemed satisfied with the International Court of Justice decision in the aftermath, it might take several years before final decisions are issued. Provisional court rulings are in fact not final rulings. The next step for Costa Rica and Nicaragua will be to reestablish some sort of diplomatic dialogue. Diplomats from Guatemala and Mexico have already offered to serve as mediators.

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