World court settles West African border dispute in gold zone

By Thomas Escritt

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - U.N. judges settled a decades-old border dispute between two of the world's poorest countries on Tuesday, drawing a line between Burkina Faso and Niger through territory where gold reserves have been found.

The ruling by the Hague-based International Court of Justice did not give details of where the new boundary lay in relation to known deposits.

The decision by the United Nations' highest court will be closely studied in the West African countries which are both dependent on exports of minerals.

The countries turned to the court in 2010 to settle their dispute which dates back to the French colonial era that ended for both nations in 1960.

Both promised to honour the court's ruling, raising hopes of a rare international judicial settlement in a corner of Africa that has been racked by conflict in recent decades.

The president of the court, Peter Tomka, said judges had chosen to be guided both by a 1927 ruling issued by the governor-general of French West Africa and by a map published by a French government agency in 1960.

The court, which arbitrates in cases where two states disagree on a point of international law, said the countries should look after the needs of nomadic communities - who move across huge areas of land - when laying out physical border markers.

It ruled in Burkina Faso's favour regarding a 150-kilometer stretch of the border from a hilltop astronomical marker to the Sirba river near the village of Bosse Bangou, and in Niger's favour for another stretch along the course of the Sirba.

Several mining companies say they have projects at various stages in areas near the Niger-Burkina Faso frontier.

Canada-based Semafo resources says its Samira Hill mine, near the border, produced 1.8 million tonnes of ore in 2012.

(Reporting By Thomas Escritt; Editing by Andrew Heavens)