Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Aleman has appointed his vice-president to head talks between Nicaragua and Costa Rica over a navigation dispute.

Costa Rica is disputing navigation rights in a 60-kilometre-area (35 mile-area) in the San Juan River which is under Nicaraguan sovereignty.

The Nicaraguan government has been harshly criticised for signing an agreement that would allow armed Costa Rican guards to travel in the river to take supplies to their border posts.

Nicaragua and Costa Rica are determined to put an end to a border dispute involving navigation rights in the San Juan River.

Nicaraguan president Arnoldo Aleman has toured the border region with his Defence Minister and other government and military officials.

The trip was meant as a show of Nicaraguan sovereignty over the San Juan River.

According to the 1858 “Cañas Jerez” treaty and the 1888 “Cleveland” declaration, Nicaragua has full sovereignty over the river.

Costa Rica, however, has commercial navigation rights in a 60-kilometre (35 mile) strait leading to the Caribbean Sea.

The dispute over navigation rights has been sparked by a series of incidents including the arrest of Nicaraguan soldiers in their territory by Costa Rican guards, illegal cattle and wood trafficking, fishing and illegal immigration from Nicaraguans into Costa Rica.

President Aleman reassured border residents that the San Juan River belongs to them.

SOUNDBITE: (Spanish)
“We’re also here – and why not say it – so that Nicaragua and the whole world know that we have a totally nationalistic government, that the San Juan River, from it’s origin in the great Nicaragua lake to its mouth in the Atlantic, is exclusively Nicaraguan.”
SUPER CAPTION: Arnoldo Aleman, President of Nicaragua

With a more ardent tone, the President added that they’ll continue to exercise full military control over the area.

SOUNDBITE: (Spanish)
“We can travel in our river with military and police. with or without weapons, because the San Juan River belongs to Nicaragua.”
SUPER CAPTION: Arnoldo Aleman, President of Nicaragua

A wave of harsh criticism has fallen over Aleman’s government after Defence Minister Jaime Cuadra signed an agreement last week that would allow armed Costa Rican guards to navigate the river.

The guards claim they need the route in order to take supplies to their border posts.

Opponents in Nicaragua say it is unconstitutional for foreign armed forces to penetrate Nicaraguan national territory.

There have already been reports of minor incidents between Costa Rican and Nicaraguan border patrols.

Nicaraguan border police claim that last Friday soldiers from a Costa Rican post fired some shots at a boat navigating the river.

SOUNDBITE: (Spanish)
“I think that maturity should prevail in this case. I immediately got in touch with Colonel Navarro, who’s the national chief of police in Costa Rica and he told me that they would take immediate action so that these incidents will never happen again. I think those problems have been surmounted for now.”
SUPER CAPTION: Lieutenant Colonel Orlando Tavarez, Military Chief of Southern Detachment

The military claims that Costa Rica has managed to open land routes to their border posts and that therefore they do not need to navigate the San Juan River.

Border residents have mixed feelings about the dispute.

SOUNDBITE: (Spanish)
“The river is ours, the ticos (Costa Ricans) cannot take it. It’s ours. Nicaraguans have the right not the ticos (Costa Ricans).”

SOUNDBITE: (Spanish)

Aleman has ordered vice-president Enrique Bolaños to head negotiations with Costa Rica to establish a strict set of navigation rules for Costa Rican guards.

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