OAS’ Insulza Does Flyover of San Juan River in Nicaraguan Military Helicopter

November 8, 2010

MANAGUA – The Secretary General of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza, departed Nicaragua Sunday evening to return to Costa Rica after a two-day visit that included a flyover of the San Juan River aboard a Nicaraguan Army helicopter.

Accompanied by Nicaragua’s Foreign Minister Samuel Santos, Insulza did a flyover of the river to see the area that is being disputed by Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The OAS head also visited the Caribbean municipality of San Juan de Nicaragua, formerly known as Greytown, at the mouth of the San Juan River.

After flying over the contested piece of land – a river island that Costa Rica claims under the name “Isla Calero,” and which Nicaragua claims under the old British name “Harbor Head” – Insulza said he had a much clearer concept of the issue.

Insulza said he would return to Costa Rica to meet with President Laura Chinchilla to discuss Ortega’s proposal to form a bilateral commission to address the river dispute plus a joint-technical commission to finish the task of demarcating the border with border stones.

After a late-night Saturday meeting with Ortega and several of his Cabinet members, Insulza said he is confident that both countries can arrive at a peaceful solution to the border standoff.

Though Insulza said he would refrain from offering an opinion on the matter until presenting his final report to the OAS on Tuesday, he said he is confident that “there is no desire for confrontation” on either side.

Ortega, for his part, called on Costa Rica to finish the work of placing border stones to mark the frontier between the two countries. In the contested region, there are currently only two border stones marking a 138 kilometer swath of frontier.

Ortega noted that in the past, technical commissions had identified 137 points where border markers should be placed, but Costa Rica has only certified 17 of those border markers. Ortega said the fact that Costa Rica has yet to certified the other 120 markers means that the Tico government “still has its doubts” about where the real border lies.

A binational commission could resolve that issue and put any lingering doubts to rest, Ortega stressed.

“Placing the border markers will help us settle this issue once and for all,” he said.

While Insulza’s visit to Costa Rica and Nicaragua this week helped to calm tensions on both sides of the border, the issue could flare up again on Thursday, when the Nicaraguan National Assembly is planning to hold a special session on the disputed river island claimed by both nations.

In what’s intended to be a show of partisan unity in defense of the San Juan River, the heads of the different political parties represented in the National Assembly, as well as the chairmen of several legislative commissions, are expected to travel to the disputed island Thursday morning in military helicopters to receive a military briefing on issues related to defense of the San Juan River.

Costa Rica has called for the Nicaraguan military to withdraw from the island, which Nicaraguan soldiers have used for years in the war on drugs. The Nicaraguan government insists the island is Nicaraguan territory and defends the Army’s right to be there.

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