Colombia gets islands' sovereignty; Nicaragua wins fight for oil reserves

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2012, 3:21am

Nicaragua claimed victory in a battle over sovereignty of tiny islands in the western Caribbean, despite the International Court of Justice's ruling that the islands belong to Colombia.

The court's decision to grant Nicaragua control of a large swathe of the sea and seabed surrounding the San Andres archipelago, that could hold oil reserves, sparked celebrations in Managua - but objections from Colombia's president.

Based on evidence presented to the judges by lawyers for both nations, "Colombia and not Nicaragua has sovereignty over the islands," the court's president, Peter Tomka, told delegations from both sides.

But the ruling on the surrounding waters was good enough for Nicaragua.

"Colombia was acting like it was the owner of these islands and like it was owner of all the maritime territory, and the court told them no, that's not how it is," Nicaragua's representative at the court , Carlos Arguello, told the country's national television channel from The Hague. "We've been given very important maritime territory."

The ruling gave Nicaragua "incredible potential wealth and future exploitation of fisheries and other resources, such as minerals", he said. "That's what we were seeking and that's what resulted."

President Juan Manuel Santos told fellow Colombians in a national speech that the court had "committed grave errors" by ignoring the terms of the very treaty it had declared valid and that the decision would hurt the archipelago's fishermen.

The decision effectively cut off four small islands from the rest of the archipelago and Santos said he could not accept the court's "omissions, errors, excesses and inconsistencies".

While Santos said he recognised that the court's decision is final and legally binding, he said Colombia "emphatically rejects this aspect of the decision".