Burkina Faso, Niger both happy at ICJ ruling on border

The west African nations of Burkina Faso and Niger both expressed satisfaction Tuesday after the International Court of Justice settled a border dispute that dated back to French colonial times.

In a highly technical ruling, the ICJ in The Hague demarcated the territory of the two countries in an area that stretched for about 380 kilometres (236 miles), more than half the length of their border.

"I think that the court sliced up the territory fairly," said Niger's Justice Minister Marou Amadou, who came to the Dutch city for the ruling. "We gain a little in the north, we lose a bit in the south (...) Both countries win out because there's no more border dispute."

In its ruling, the UN's highest judicial body gave both neighbours cause for satisfaction, though it slightly favoured the position of Burkina Faso, particularly in giving it more access to the Sirba river, a tributary of the vast Niger river, than Niger had wanted.

"But fine, this territorial dispute was never a source of great tension," Amadou said, recalling that the border lines initially drawn up by both countries were always respected within 20 kilometres, except where the Sirba river was concerned, since Burkina Faso gained about 40 kilometres at that point.

"We are parting as good friends, very good friends," said Burkina Faso's Minister of Territorial Administration and Security Jerome Bougouma after the lengthy ruling was read out. "There was often confusion concerning the security forces, patrols and the collection of taxes. All that's over now."

The two countries had for decades tried to resolve the issue themselves, setting up a joint technical commission, but there was disagreement over certain border markers arising from the different weight each side gave to certain colonial documents.

They jointly filed a suit with the ICJ on July 20, 2010, asking the court to delineate the border in a central zone, with neighbours Mali and Benin at each end of it.

The north of the disputed territory is largely a semi-desert region populated mainly by nomad herders, while the people in the south of the territory are instead settled farmers.