By Ivan Castro
MANAGUA (Reuters) - Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said on Wednesday that Nicaragua would not grant oil drilling licenses in ecologically sensitive Caribbean waters that belonged until recently to Colombia.
Last month, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that a cluster of disputed small islands in the western Caribbean belonged to Colombia and not to Nicaragua, but drew a demarcation line in favor of Nicaragua in the nearby waters.
The ruling reduced the expanse of ocean belonging to Colombia, and the UNESCO-recognized Seaflower Biosphere Reserve, which Ortega has sought to protect, falls under the demarcation line.
"I've been very clear," Ortega said at a military event. "In this Nicaraguan reserve, we won't be offering concessions so people can come and destroy it by boring holes into the ground looking for oil."
Ortega said he raised the subject of refusing drilling licenses when he met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in Mexico last week.
"The world can be sure that Nicaragua won't be doing it, and so can the Colombian people and President Santos," he added, noting the issue had been one of Santos' top concerns when they spoke recently.
Both Ortega and Santos said last week that they hoped to avoid war and instead use dialogue to solve the territorial dispute.
The Seaflower Biosphere Reserve, located between Colombia and Jamaica, covers roughly 10 percent of the Caribbean Sea, and is a major site of coral and fish diversity.
(Reporting by Ivan Castro, Gabriel Stargardter; Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Peter Cooney)