Nicaragua accused of seeking oil in Colombian waters
BY DAN MOLINSKI
BOGOTA -- Colombia on Wednesday accused Nicaragua of preparing to search for oil in Caribbean waters that belong to Colombia and other nations, and in some cases are environmentally protected, the latest flare-up in a long-running maritime dispute between the two countries.
A statement from Colombia's Foreign Ministry said "a significant number" of the offshore oil exploration blocks the Nicaraguan government is auctioning off are located in parts of the Caribbean Sea that either belong to Colombia or other countries in the region besides Nicaragua. As proof, Colombia pointed to maps found on the website of Nicaragua's Mines and Energy Ministry that detail the oil auctions.
"Colombia's government rejects emphatically this Nicaraguan attempt," the Colombian Foreign Ministry said, adding it will prevent any workers or equipment from entering Colombian waters in search of oil.
Colombia also said some of the oil blocks that Nicaragua is selling are located within the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve, which is situated halfway between Colombia and Jamaica. The marine biosphere covers 10% of the Caribbean Sea, and Colombia said protection of these waters is "obligatory."
Officials in Nicaragua weren't immediately available for comment, but Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has pledged in the past not to search for oil in the Seaflower reserve.
The protests from Bogota come less than a year after a ruling from a United Nations court redrew Colombian and Nicaraguan offshore boundaries in the Caribbean, giving Nicaragua much more sea territory and taking territory away from Colombia. Colombia has heatedly protested the ruling, which also confirmed Colombia's sovereignty over a small group of islands off Nicaragua's coast.
Immediately after that November ruling, Mr. Ortega pledged to search for oil and other hydrocarbons in his country's newly expanded offshore territory. An oil discovery in Nicaraguan waters would be a huge benefit for the poor Central American nation, which currently has to buy imported fuel, although oil-rich and socialist-ally Venezuela provides Nicaragua with much of its fuel needs at deep discounts.
Among the companies that plan to help Nicaragua explore for oil in the Caribbean are Spain's largest oil producer Repsol, according to Nicaragua's government. Repsol also dabbled in exploration in the same area several years ago when the waters were still controlled by Colombia.
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