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Ruling Ends Rift That Started 1969 'Soccer War' : Central America: World Court delivers its judgment in the old territorial dispute between El Salvador and Honduras. Both sides vow to respect the decision.

September 12, 1992|From Times Wire Services

THE HAGUE — The International Court of Justice delivered a judgment Friday ending an age-old border dispute between El Salvador and Honduras, which erupted into the short but bloody "Soccer War" in 1969.

The court, which is the judicial arm of the United Nations, fixed the border between the two Central American states in six disputed pockets of land with a combined area of about 168 square miles.

Presidents Rafael L. Callejas of Honduras and Alfredo Cristiani of El Salvador met on their common frontier to receive news of the judgment, and both pledged to respect the ruling.

"Today we celebrate with satisfaction that there no longer exist territorial differences between our countries; today each one knows how far his rights extend," Cristiani said.

Callejas said that the two Central American countries have shown the world "that any dispute, however complex, can be resolved in a civilized and conciliatory way."

The foreign ministers of both countries, who attended the reading of the judgment at the Peace Palace in The Hague, said their countries would respect the ruling.

"Both governments are truly committed to the observance of the judgment," said Honduran Foreign Minister Mario Carias Zapata.

"We are both engaged in economic integration in Central America, and we do not foresee any tension whatsoever as a result of this judgment," he said.

His comments were echoed by his Salvadoran counterpart Manuel Pacas Castro. "There is no doubt about it. There is a commitment that has been ratified many times," Pacas said.

Maps attached to the text of the judgment showed that about two-thirds of the disputed land was awarded to Honduras and one-third to El Salvador.

In the decision, the court also ruled that El Salvador holds sovereignty over the disputed islands of Meanguera and Meanguerita, while Honduras has sovereignty over the disputed island of El Tigre. All three islands lie in the Gulf of Fonseca, bordered by the Pacific coasts of El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

The court ruled that the three countries hold joint sovereignty over the waters of the gulf, which boasts rich fishing grounds.

In addition to the civilian leaders of the two disputants, the military chiefs of El Salvador and Honduras have also pledged their adherence to the court's judgment, having done so most recently at an Aug. 25 meeting in Honduras.

Judge Jose Sette-Camara of Brazil, president of the five-judge chamber that heard the six-year case, said it had been one of the longest and most complex in the court's history.

The territorial dispute between the two countries dates back to the end of Spanish colonial rule in the early 19th Century.

In 1969 it exploded into the 100-hour "Soccer War" that claimed up to 5,000 lives and was touched off when Honduras lost a World Cup qualifying match to El Salvador.

A 1980 peace treaty established a new dividing line along most of the border but failed to bring an agreement on the six zones affected by Friday's judgment.

In 1986 the two countries jointly submitted the dispute over the territory to the World Court, as the tribunal here is popularly called.

Earlier this year the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras signed a free-trade accord aimed at accelerating economic integration in Central America. The accord will take effect by Jan. 1, 1993. Costa Rica and Nicaragua are expected to join the free-trade zone later.

In Washington, the ambassadors of Honduras and El Salvador welcomed the World Court ruling Friday as spelling a beginning to a new era of cooperation and Central American integration.

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