Argentina Asks Uruguay to Halt Pulp Project 90 Days
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina Argentine President Nestor Kirchner called Wednesday for a 90-day halt to the construction of two pulp mills in Uruguay that have sparked environmental concerns, protests and a deep diplomatic crisis between the neighbors.
The $1.7 billion project along the Uruguay River shared by both countries is Uruguay's biggest industrial investment ever.
But it has unleashed demonstrations led by ordinary Argentines and environmentalists worried about contamination and its effect on the region's tourism and fishing.
"I'm asking for only 90 days to help two brotherly countries resolve this very important issue," Kirchner said in a speech to open the legislative year in Congress.
He wants Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez to allow time for further studies on environmental risks.
Uruguayan officials did not immediately comment on Kirchner's request.
The mills, to be built by Finland's Metsa-Botnia and Spain's Ence , are expected to produce 1.5 million metric tonnes of wood pulp for export after they begin production in 2007.
The companies insist any pollutants from the plants would come within internationally tolerated levels.
But for months, residents in Argentina's Entre Rios Province, located across the river from the proposed mill site, have manned road blockades shutting down travel between the two countries in a move that Uruguayan officials have said is badly hurting Uruguay's economy.
Kirchner and Argentine officials have threatened to take their concerns to the International Court of Justice in The Hague if the two countries fail to resolve their differences over the plants.
Vazquez, meanwhile, has said he is considering seeking mediation by the Organization of American States.