THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The International Court of Justice ruled Monday that a group of tiny islands in the western Caribbean belongs to Colombia, rejecting Nicaragua's claim in a long-running territorial dispute between the two Latin American nations.
Based on evidence presented to the judges by lawyers for both nations, "Colombia and not Nicaragua has sovereignty over the islands," the court's President Peter Tomka told delegations from both sides.
Nicaragua first went to the world court, the United Nations' highest judicial organ, in 2001 arguing that Colombia had no legal claim to the islands.
The court partially rejected that argument in 2007, saying a 1928 treaty between the two countries established that Colombia owned the English-speaking islands of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina.
Those volcanic islands, 720 kilometers (450 miles) from Colombia's coast and 110 kilometers (70 miles) from Nicaragua's mainland, are popular among tourists for their pristine white beaches and coral reefs.
In Monday's ruling, the court's 15 judges said that several other smaller islands and cays in the region also belong to Colombia and set the maritime borders based on Colombia's ownership of the islands.
The new borders give Colombia control of the waters and seabed immediately surrounding its islands and cays and give Nicaragua a large horseshoe-shaped area of the sea and seabed stretching from its mainland coast around the Colombian islands.
International Court of Justice rulings are final and legally binding.