Uruguay said Wednesday it would send troops to guard a disputed pulp mill on the border with Argentina and asked a world court to force Argentina to end roadblocks by anti-mill protesters.
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay Uruguay said Wednesday it would send troops to guard a disputed pulp mill on the border with Argentina and asked a world court to force Argentina to end roadblocks by anti-mill protesters.
A presidential aide, Jorge Vazquez, told reporters an unspecified number of army troops would guard the riverside property where Finnish forestry group Metsa-Botnia is building its pulp mill.
"This decision is being made due to Botnia's specific situation," Vazquez said. "When one thinks there could be a risk involved, one must act."
Argentina fears the mill, which is due to begin operating in the third quarter of 2007, will damage the environment and hurt tourism and fishing in the area. Uruguay says roadblocks against the project have cost it millions of dollars.
Uruguay's ambassador in France, Hector Gros Espiell, told Reuters via telephone that Uruguay challenged the roadblocks at the International Court of Justice in The Hague -- which is already trying a case on this dispute filed by Argentina.
"The request was presented today to the court, which will now set dates for each country to state its position regarding the roadblocks," Gros Espiell said.
"It could be around Dec. 18 or 19 and then the court would take a week to rule," he added.
In seeking an injunction from the world court, Uruguay said "organized groups of Argentine citizens have blockaded a vital international bridge over the Uruguay River, shutting off commercial and tourist travel from Argentina to Uruguay."
Uruguay estimated the blockades would deprive it of hundreds of millions of dollars in trade and tourism revenue, the court said in a statement.
Argentina sued Uruguay at The Hague earlier this year, charging that Montevideo had violated a bilateral treaty by not providing enough information on the riverside project.
The court rejected Argentina's request in July for an order forcing Uruguay to suspend construction of the $1.7 billion project.
But it has not ruled on the main issue, whether Uruguay breached a 1975 treaty under which all issues regarding the river must be discussed and agreed upon by both countries. That ruling is expected within two years.
Environmentalists and residents of the Argentine city Gualeguaychu have blocked the main highway leading to Uruguay on and off for months, costing the Uruguayan economy some $400 million, Uruguayan officials have said.
Roadblocks recently resumed after a nearly six-month truce, and protesters have built public bathrooms and a makeshift kitchen along the side of the road as they settle in for demonstrations during the Southern Hemisphere's summer -- when Uruguay relies heavily on tourism.
The presidents of Argentina and Uruguay agreed earlier this month to seek the king of Spain's help to improve dialogue on the pulp dispute. But the situation seems to have worsened in recent weeks.
"Some representatives of the Gualeguaychu assembly have said that a bin Laden could appear," said Uruguayan Vice President Rodolfo Nin Novoa, referring to the al Qaeda leader behind the 2001 attacks on the United States.
"We don't want to generate insecurity," he said. "We want to guarantee the development of investments in Uruguay."
(Additional reporting by Niclas Mika in Amsterdam)