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Costa Rica says Nicaraguan troops are out

January 31, 2011

Costa Rican Security Minister José Maria Tijerino announced Monday that Nicaraguan troops are no longer present on the Isla Calero, the disputed swath of land in the northeast corner of Costa Rica. According to Tijerino, flyovers of the area on Saturday and Monday revealed that Nicaraguan troops were no longer visible on the south side of the Río San Juan, which Costa Rica considers part of its territory.

“On Saturday and again today [Monday], we conducted flyovers of the area occupied by Nicaragua and we detected a change. Nicaraguan forces are no longer visible in the area, though their camps are still there,” Tijerino said. “This does not necessarily mean that Nicaragua has abandoned the area. It could mean that these forces are hidden. It could also mean that, and this is more probable, that most of the security they have available on the river has been moved to a different area. In previous occasions they have come and gone…and this not does not guarantee that it is safe for Costa Ricans to return to navigate the river in the region.”

Monday afternoon the Security Ministry presented photos of the vacant campgrounds on the Isla Calero and alongside the Laguna de los Portillos. While makeshift tents with thatch roofs are still present in the area, no Nicaraguan troops are visible. The Nicaraguan dredge, named “Sovereignty,” remains on the northern banks of the river in Nicaraguan territory.

Foreign Minister René Castro warned that the absence of troops on the south side of the river might be a Nicaraguan ploy to “trick” and “confuse” the members of the International Court of Justice. At the world court case in mid-January, Nicaraguan representative Carlos Argüello Gómez told judges that Nicaraguan troops were not stationed on the south side of the river.

“At this time there are no troops in the marsh. There aren’t any permanent military posts in the area,” Argüello told judges on Jan. 13. “I’d also add that Nicaragua has no intention to station troops or personnel on any part of the marsh that Nicaragua identifies at the area of Harbor Head and coincides with the area that Costa Rica refers to with other names [Isla Calero].”

During a Jan. 19 flyover of the region, a Security Ministry photo revealed the presence of camouflaged Nicaraguan soldiers at a campsite on Isla Calero. 

“By no means does this indicate that Nicaraguan troops have been removed from the area,” Castro said. “It appears to be a maneuver to try to trick the international community and the members of the world court. It is a method of litigating in bad faith.”

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