Misplaced farmers proclaim a republic on Nicaragua-Costa Rica border


MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- On a patch of land along the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, disgruntled farmers say they have formed the world's newest nation. They call it the Republic of Airrecu.

Authorities are not amused.

Nicaragua's Foreign Ministry called the plan "absurd" and "a desperate act." It threatened to send in police.

Costa Rica's Foreign Ministry described the secessionist republic as "nonexistent."

The quirky independence proclamation follows years of dispute over the exact location of the remote border. Taking action under the leadership of a farmer named Augusto Rodriguez, the settlers sent a letter to the United Nations office in San Jose, the Costa Rican capital, pronouncing their independence and demanding a seat in the U.N. General Assembly.

They proclaimed that their republic is 82 square miles, larger than Liechtenstein (62 square miles) but smaller than Andorra (185 square miles). They have not spelled out the boundaries, however.

The aspiring republic takes its name from the Maleku Indian word for "friendship" and is pronounced ah-ee-ray-KOO. The Malekus, about 520 of whom live in Costa Rica, are fighting for survival.

Airrecu occupies a swatch of swampy border south of Lake Nicaragua, and barely accessible by road. At least four treaties, conventions and acts have attempted to delineate the border over the last century, but a satellite-aided survey last year showed that the boundary was inaccurate, and the adjustment was unfavorable to Costa Rica.

That has meant that 36 families on the huge Jomusa ranch, most of whom consider themselves Costa Rican, found out that they live in Nicaragua.

The mix-up angered the settlers and others in Costa Rica, who felt that President Jose Maria Figueres ceded the land to Nicaragua too quickly.

In announcing their independence, the settlers said they had decided they wanted to be neither Costa Rican nor Nicaraguan. This irked authorities in both countries.

Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Ernesto Leal warned that the head settler, Mr. Rodriguez, should "return on his own two feet to Costa Rican territory or we will face the unpleasant situation of having to evict him."

On a brief visit to Nicaragua, Mr. Figueres played down the Nicaraguan threat, saying, "We live in a peaceful, democratic Central America now. . . . We are neighboring countries, we are friends."

He said the colonizers would be resettled in Costa Rica as soon as farms can be bought for them.

But the Costa Rican ambassador to Nicaragua acknowledged that the settlers "are very rooted to the land they live on" and do not want to move.

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