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Tensions high between Nicaragua, Costa Rica in border dispute

November 19, 2010 |  9:16 am

Costa rica nicaragua google maps image

An error on Google Maps that showed a strip of land belonging to Costa Rica in Nicaraguan territory has evolved into a tense international dispute between the Central American neighbors.

The government of Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla sued its neighbor at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, claiming that Nicargua is unlawfully sitting on land on the San Juan River that belongs to Costa Rica, near the river's mouth to the Carribbean (link in Spanish). Costa Rica is also claiming that Nicaragua is contaminating the river.

Nicaragua admitted that it used a Google Maps mistake, since corrected by the search engine giant, to send troops onto Calero Island, a territory it calls disputed. Nicaragua is dredging land there, and is refusing to pull back.

"Costa Rica is seeing its dignity smeared and there is a sense of great national urgency" to resolve the conflict, Chinchilla said, according to reports.

The San Juan River marks much of the eastern border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica and has been the source of tension between the neighbors for more than a century. The crisis, now a diplomatic one, is getting complicated.

The Organization of American States told both governments to meet and settle the dispute, and requested Nicaragua remove its troops from Costa Rican territory. But Nicaragua refused to obey. An advisor to President Daniel Ortega upped the ante when he claimed in a television interview that Costa Rica contaminates the San Juan River and not the other way around (link in Spanish).

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Image: A screen-grab from Google Maps showing the border of Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Credit: Google Maps

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