Costa Rica mobilizes troops along Nicaraguan line

Costa Rica has begun a military operation along its northern border in response to reports that Nicaraguan soldiers have entered an area along the Río San Juan, ran off farm workers, killed cattle and began dredging.

The security ministry released this photo Friday of dredging operations on the San Juan

Barra del Colorado, the small village in northeast Costa Rica, has become an armed camp. The local community center has been taken over as a command center, and security ministry aircraft, fixed wing and helicopters, are making numerous flights.

At least 50 security ministry troops are on the ground, and many are in battle dress with heavy weaponry, said reports from the community.

The Barra del Colorado airport was closed to civilian flights earlier today. Planes were diverted to Tortugero.

Costa Rica does not have an army, but Fuerza Pública officers resembled soldiers. They were wearing battle helmets, carrying M-16 rifles and a few weapons described as 50-caliber machine guns. Some are practicing dismounting from a helicopter, the reports said. Many are dressed in camouflage and wearing bullet-proof vests that say “Police.”

In Nicaragua, Eden Pastora, the ex-guerrilla who
is in charge of the dredging operation, claimed
today on television that an island in the San Juan really belongs to his country. Costa Rica says that the island is Tico soil. It is leased by the government to a farmer, whose son reported being threatened by Nicaraguan troops as long ago as Oct. 8.

Costa Rican troops were being brought to the staging area by the newly remodeled Caribou aircraft. Officials were making overflights of the disputed zone with helicopters.

José María Tijerino, the security minister, said Thursday night that Costa Rica has filed a formal protest with Nicaragua over the dredging operation, which seeks to deepen the mouth of the Río San Juan where it enters the Caribbean. Tijerino said that the material dredged from the river was being depositing via a 12-inch pipe onto Costa Rican soil.

The river is the boundary between the two countries, but the international line is on the south bank.

He made no mention of an impending military action. President Laura Chinchilla told reporters earlier Friday that the troop deployment was preventative.

Barra del Colorado residents have been prohibited from visiting the community center, and red cones have been set out as a line of restriction.

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