Latvia’s government declared April 3 a demarcation line for fishing purposes in disputed Gulf of Riga waters, effective April 15. The government ordered Latvian gunboats to monitor fishing by Latvian trawlers in the disputed areas. The demarcation line follows the medial line between the coasts of Latvia and Estonia, deeply intruding into waters claimed by Estonia. Announcing the decision, Latvia’s Foreign Ministry said that it had not discussed its action with Estonia, but would do so at next week’s scheduled talks. Latvian prime minister Andris Skele in turn told a briefing that the escalation of the dispute is regrettable, but may lend impetus to bilateral negotiations.
In Tallinn, Prime Minister Tiit Vahi issued a statement that Estonia must defend its border and that Riga’s action "created an extremely serious situation in Latvian-Estonian relations." Vahi stated that Latvia’s action signified a rejection of Estonia’s March 22 proposals on a temporary demarcation line. (BNS, April 3 & 4) The line drawn by Estonia proceeds from its ownership of the islands in the Gulf of Riga; a median line drawn on that basis leaves only a small part of the Gulf to Latvia. Last year, both countries sent coastal guard ships to enforce their claims against the other side’s fishing boats. The tension has now increased in connection with imminent fishing season in the rich fishing waters, particularly those around Rukhnu island.
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