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Dominican Republic to Close Border with Haiti Over Canal Dispute

Dominican Republic security forces stand guard on a border bridge between Dajabón, Dominican Republic, and Haiti, Sept. 14, 2023.

The Dominican Republic's president announced Thursday that he would close all borders with neighboring Haiti beginning Friday morning over a feud about a Haitian canal that would use water from a river along their shared border.

Air, sea and land borders are set to close at 6 a.m. local time on Friday and will remain blocked "until necessary," President Luis Abinader said. The Dominican Republic also deployed 20 armored vehicles to a military camp on the border.

"Unfortunately, they left us no alternative but to take drastic measures," Abinader told reporters during a news conference on Thursday. "We have been prepared for weeks, not only for this situation but also for a possible peace force in Haiti."

The decision came after Haitian and Dominican officials held talks on Wednesday and Thursday to try to come to a resolution. Those talks are set to continue.

The dispute is over the excavation of a canal by a farming group in Haiti that would use water from the Massacre River, which runs along the border that the two countries share.

The Dominican president has accused Haiti of trying to divert water from the shared river and said it would impact Dominican farmers and the environment.

Haiti's government responded, saying it has the right to use the shared river, in line with a 1929 treaty.

The government said it "will take all necessary measures to protect the interests of the Haitian people."

Work on the canal had been paused since the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise in July 2021, but construction has since resumed, according to the International Crisis Group.

The Dominican Republic last fully closed its border with Haiti following Moise’s assassination.

Relations between the two countries, which share the island of Hispaniola, have grown increasingly fraught in recent years, including over border security and the treatment of Haitian migrants and asylum-seekers, many of whom are fleeing deadly gang violence in Haiti.

Since the impending closure was announced, hundreds of Haitians have returned from the Dominican Republic.

In a statement, the U.S. embassy in Haiti said American citizens looking to cross the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic will have to make other plans. The U.S. government discourages American citizens from traveling to Haiti due to safety risks.

Neither the Dominican Republic nor Haiti’s Washington embassies immediately replied to VOA’s emails requesting comment.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.