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Nicaragua prohibits entry of Costa Rican officials to disputed border area

December 10, 2013

Immigration officials from Nicaragua on Tuesday prevented a group of Costa Rican inspectors from assessing environmental damage at Isla Portillos caused by the excavation of two artificial canals, said Environment Vice Minister Ana Lorena Guevara.

Experts from the Environment Ministry and the Foreign Ministry arrived at the site for a two-day visit following orders issued by The Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) last month.

Costa Rican officials were trying to access Isla Portillos, a small wetland of some 1.2 square miles, that both countries claim as their own before the ICJ.

On their arrival, Nicaraguan military told the group that they would only allow them to enter the site as long as they were accompanied by members of the United Nations Wetlands Convention (RAMSAR) or by Nicaraguan environmentalists. The Costa Rican officials gave up and headed back.

Guevara explained that the group’s visit was in compliance with an ICJ ruling that ordered Costa Rica to assess environmental damage caused by dredging works performed by Nicaragua to build the canals, as well as “to propose possible mitigation measures, in coordination with RAMSAR experts.” The UN group had previously said they would visit the wetlands in Feb. 2014.

In the same ruling, the ICJ ordered Nicaragua the repair the canals and to immediately cease all works in the area.

Former guerrilla leader Edén “Comandante Cero” Pastora, in charge of dredging project, commenced repairing the two canals Nov. 28. “We currently are filling the 150 meters canals, which I mostly cleaned of water lilies and other aquatic plants … There are some 50 men in the area with shovels, moving sand and covering the canals,” Pastora said at the time.

The Costa Rican mission intended to evaluate whether Nicaragua has complied with the ICJ orders.

On Tuesday, the ICJ reported on its website that next Friday the Court’s President, Justice Peter Tomka, will read the ruling on the conflict between the two nations.

The ruling will resolve the claim by Nicaragua that the construction of a road parallel to the Río San Juan caused damage to the river, which functions as a natural border between the two countries.

Costa Rica sued Nicaragua for several invasions by military and civilian groups of its territory.

In addition both countries dispute sovereignty over the wetlands of Isla Portillos, which Nicaragua calls Harbour Head.

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