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Argentine pickets block bridges leading to Uruguay

Sunday, September 24th 2006 - 21:00 UTC
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In a repeat of last summer demonstrations thousands of Argentine residents blocked Sunday two of three border-crossings to neighbouring Uruguay to protest the building of pulp mills on the Uruguayan side.

Environmental groups and residents from Colon and Gualeguaychú blocked with miles long vehicle caravans the bridges spanning the Uruguay River connecting with the Uruguayan provinces of Paysandu and Fray Bentos, where Spanish and Finnish interests are involved in the building of pulp mills.

Finland's Botnia is keeping to the timetable and should be in production by the third quarter next year. However Spain's Ence this week decided to "re-locate" its planned pulp mill which apparently would be transferred to Paysandu, a move which Argentine residents in Colon on the other side of the river reject.

Organizers said that in Gualeguaychú some 9,000 vehicles participated in the huge demonstration and in Colon an estimated 3,000 cars. Argentine residents claim that the paper mills are highly polluting and will ruin the environment, agriculture and tourism industry along the Uruguay River, shared by Argentina and Uruguay.

The controversy has been brewing for about a year and the two governments have taken their dispute to the International Court of Justice, the ICJ, at The Hague.

Residents from Entre Rios province blocked the border crossing with Fray Bentos in Uruguay, between November 2005 and March 2006, to protest the building of the pulp mills with the Argentine government adopting a "passive attitude", according to claims from the Uruguayan authorities.

A first ruling of the ICJ rejected Buenos Aires petition to halt work on the mills until a full accumulative environmental assessment study was completed. However the ICJ did not condemn or caution Argentina about the pickets blocking the bridges.

Uruguay appealed to the Mercosur Arbitration Court alleging Argentina with the pickets was impeding the free movement of people and trade, but the ruling last July was not conclusive and called on both sides to reach an agreement.

Speaking from Gualeguaychú Argentine Environment Minister Romina Picolotti said that following Ence's decision to relocate, "Botnia's plant also has to be moved; the impact of Botnia is the most important; it's the larger plant".

In Buenos Aires Cabinet chief Alberto Fernandez, said Sunday that Argentina expects that from "now onwards" the Uruguay River joint administration Treaty will "be respected", and insisted that Ence's decision to re-locate the plant "proves that Argentina's demand before the ICJ was correct."

Categories: Mercosur.

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