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EARTH OBSERVATION
Google Maps embroiled in Central America border dispute

by Staff Writers
New York (AFP) Nov 6, 2010
Costa Rica on Saturday stepped up pressure on international mediators to engage in its territory dispute with Nicaragua, after Google Maps was cited in an incident that saw the neighboring countries dispatch forces to their joint border.

The Internet search giant joined the fray after a Nicaraguan commander cited Google's version of the border map in an interview with Costa Rican newspaper La Nacion to justify a raid on a disputed border area.

The area is hotly disputed by the two neighbors, and Costa Rica has asked the Organization of American States (OAS) to investigate the alleged violations of its territory. OAS Secretary General Jose Manuel Insulza is touring both countries in a bid to mediate the dispute.

On Saturday, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla said she was prepared to take the dispute to the UN Security Council if the OAS cannot find a solution.

"Costa Rica is seeing its dignity smeared and there is a sense of great national urgency" to resolve this problem, Chinchilla said after meeting Insulza.

A discussion with US State Department officials led Google to conclude that "there was indeed an error in the compilation of the source data, by up to 2.7 kilometers (1.7 miles)," for its map of the region, the company said Friday.

Google geopolicy analyst Charlie Hale said in a Google blogpost that the State Department provided a corrected version and "we are now working to update our maps."

The error lies in Google's depiction of the border in part of the Caribbean coast, near the San Juan River, the center of the dispute between San Jose and Managua that arose over Nicaragua's dredging of a river separating the two countries.

Hale said Google's map of the area will be corrected to follow the demarcation laid out in an 1897 arbitration award of a previous border treaty.

"The corrected version will follow the east bank of the San Juan River going northward, nearly to the Caribbean. It will then turn eastward and follow the southern shoreline of a large lagoon, Laguna los Portillos," he explained.

The Nicaraguan government demanded that Google reject Costa Rica's request to change the depiction of the border, which it called "correct."

"I officially request that (the border marking) not be modified," Foreign Minister Samuel Santos asked Google representative Jeffrey Hardy.

Hale noted that cartography is a "complex undertaking," borders constantly change and "there are inevitably going to be errors" in the data.

Costa Rica and Nicaragua have clashed since the 19th century over navigation rights for the San Juan River, which runs along half the frontier between the two countries.

Nicaragua has denied sending troops over the border, as claimed by Costa Rica, which says Nicaraguan soldiers have crossed the waterway, pitched tents on a disputed island and raised their country's flag there.

On Tuesday, Costa Rica, which does not have an army, dispatched fresh security forces to the border to bolster 150 agents sent earlier to the region, the scene of increasingly heated cross-border tensions since October 18.



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