THE HAGUE, Nov 19 (Reuters) - The International Court of
Justice ruled on Monday that a cluster of disputed small islands
in the western Caribbean belonged to Colombia and not to
Nicaragua, but drew a demarcation line in favor of Nicaragua in
the nearby waters.
The court said the territorial waters extending out from the
seven islets, which are nearer Nicaragua's coast than
Colombia's, should not cut into Nicaragua's continental shelf.
The ruling reduced the expanse of ocean belonging to Colombia.
The decision, which is binding, increases the size of
Nicaragua's continental shelf and economic exclusion zone in the
Caribbean, potentially giving it access to underwater oil and
gas deposits as well as fishing rights.
"The court agrees that the achievement of an equitable
solution requires a line of delimitation to allow the parties to
attain their maritime rights in a mutually balanced way," said
Peter Tomka, presiding judge.
In 2007, the court, which is based in The Hague, ruled in a
long-running dispute between the two countries that the three
larger islands of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina
belonged to Colombia.
The ruling on Monday related to a further seven islets and
the associated offshore rights surrounding them. The three
larger islands have been controlled by Colombia since Nicaragua
ceded them in a 1928 treaty.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos rejected the changes
to the border, which effectively put some islands outside of the
rest of the archipelago, saying the ruling had "omissions,
mistakes, excesses, inconsistencies, that we can not accept".
"Colombia ... emphatically rejects that aspect of the
judgment the Court has issued," he said in a statement.
"Therefore, we do not rule out any action or mechanism
granted to us by international law to defend our rights."
The cluster of islands is over 700 km (437 miles) from the
Colombian coast but only 200 km (125 miles) from Nicaragua.
"This is the best result we could hope for," Carlos
Arguello, Nicaragua's representative before The Hague, told
local television. "The court has awarded us an big maritime