Nicaragua, Costa Rica welcome pope's call for better ties

Managua (AFP) - Central American neighbors Nicaragua and Costa Rica, which have butted heads on a number of issues, publicly welcomed a call by Pope Francis that they strive for "reciprocal cooperation."

But neither country looked ready to take the first step to build what the pope said on Sunday should be "a renewed spirit of fraternity."

The pontiff's call was aimed at overcoming simmering resentment between the two over long-running border disputes and an impasse over thousands of stranded Cuban migrants.

"We are fully ready for dialogue," Nicaraguan government spokeswoman -- and First Lady -- Rosario Murillo offered to state media.

Costa Rica's government issued a statement that "thanked" the pope for his appeal but stressed that "renewed collaboration should be expressed through concrete and effective actions that show solidarity between the countries."

Ties between Costa Rica and Nicaragua are at a low point, largely because of Nicaragua's refusal since mid-November to let more than 5,000 US-bound Cubans stuck in Costa Rica pass over its border.

Costa Rica has found itself forced to look after the Cubans after trying in vain to get other Central American states to accept them.

In a sign of its frustration, last week it announced it has suspended political engagement with a regional body, the Central American Integration System, meant to promote cooperation.

Nicaragua, too, is none too pleased with its neighbor after losing a territorial dispute over a small patch of border wetlands. The International Court of Justice last week ruled Costa Rica had sovereignty over the land.

Ideologically, the two countries are far apart as well.

Nicaragua is ruled by President Daniel Ortega, a former Marxist rebel who is fiercely anti-American. Costa Rica is a pro-American state that markets itself as an eco-friendly vacation paradise and stable investment haven.

The pope, who is to visit Mexico in February, on Sunday urged rapprochement between the two nations.

The Vatican played a discreet but crucial role in helping bring about a thaw in the enmity between the US and Cuba a year ago.