THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Guatemala and Belize have asked the United Nations' highest body for inter-state disputes to help resolve a border disagreement that has rumbled on for centuries, the court said on Wednesday.
The Hague-based International Court of Justice said the two Central American nations had requested its intervention after referendums in Guatemala in 2018 and Belize this year.
In a dispute stretching back to the dawn of the colonial era in the Americas, Guatemala recognized the independence of Belize at the beginning of the 1990s. But it never accepted the borders and continues to claim about 11,000 square km (4,250 square miles) of Belize, about half of its territory.
Guatemala and Belize have agreed to accept the court's decision on "any and all legal claims of Guatemala against Belize to land and insular territories," a statement said.
A decision could take years.
The court's ruling is to be implemented by a bi-national commission, the composition of which is to be agreed within three months of the court's decision.
Belize, an English-speaking country of around 375,000 people, became independent in 1981.
Inhabited by Maya before the arrival of Europeans, the territory was claimed by Spain and settled by British buccaneers during the 17th century. It later became a British possession surrounded by countries that Spain had colonized.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Catherine Evans and Andrew Cawthorne)