May 3, 2014 / 2:58 AM / 5 years ago

Colombia court backs Santos in sea boundary dispute with Nicaragua

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s constitutional court ruled on Friday that applying a decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that granted Nicaragua a disputed area of Caribbean waters could not take effect without a treaty between the countries.

The court’s verdict upholds the position taken by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who said the Hague-based ICJ’s decision was not applicable according to Colombia’s constitution without such a treaty, ratified by the Andean nation’s congress.

The ICJ in November 2012 reduced the area of ocean that belonged to Colombia around its cluster of Caribbean islands, determining that a section of their maritime shelf belonged to Nicaragua.

Colombia has been angered by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s plans to allow foreign companies to explore for oil in Caribbean seas that Colombia maintains are its own.

Santos, the front runner in a presidential election set for May 25 in which he will seek a second term, has never said that he flatly rejected the ICJ’s ruling and stated in the past that Colombia would not go to war to resolve the dispute.

Nonetheless, he said last September that he would oppose any attempt by Nicaragua to extend its sea frontier toward Colombia and said then he had technical and judicial arguments ready to press the case, which he declined to reveal.

Santos said on Friday he would wait to receive details of the constitutional court’s verdict before deciding what course of action to take.

Until now, Colombia has said that Nicaragua only has economic rights, such as to fish in the disputed waters, but not sovereignty over them.

Reporting by Monica Garcia; Writing by Peter Murphy; Editing by Robert Birsel

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