ROME (Reuters) - A border dispute between Italy and France is snowballing after the mayor of the French Alpine resort of Chamonix closed a popular walking route on Mont Blanc, citing safety concerns.
Italian officials say Chamonix's mayor has impinged on Italian territory by blocking a gate that leads to the "Glacier of the Giant".
After the a summer when the number of hikers was increased by good weather and a new cable car, authorities on both sides were concerned about people going too high without the equipment or experience to cope with a glacier. While the Italians thought warning notices would suffice, the French blocked the path.
The border runs over the mountain, which is called Monte Bianco in Italian, but there is no physical boundary marking the line. Italians say the gate is on their land.
Augusto Rollandin, governor of Italy's northerly Val d'Aosta region, sent a letter to Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi asking him to intervene after French Alpine guides blocked the gate.
"The question of the state border on Monte Bianco, which certainly has high-level, international implications, also has immediate and significant consequences ... for commercial activities in the area," Rollandin wrote.
Chamonix Mayor Eric Fournier told Reuters that access to the glacier was blocked to deter ill-equipped or inexperienced people and children from straying into an area where there are holes and crevices hundreds of meters deep.
"This is not a question of borders, it's a question of security," Fournier said. "I am responsible for security on the glacier."
Fournier said he did not know exactly where the barrier was. "If there is a problem on that, it's not a problem for me. I will move it to a position in France."
The mountain rescue branch of Italy's customs police has reported the incident to the public prosecutor.
(Reporting by Isla Binnie and Brian Love; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Robin Pomeroy)