( dpa ) - The leaders of Central America Wednesday agreed to finish negotiations about a new agreement with the European Union by early 2009 - but only if EU demands for preconditions such as changing local laws are dropped.
At a meeting in Costa Rica, the presidents of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala urged the EU to drop preconditions that have been suggested as part of an Association Agreement between the two groups.
The four leaders said they would not agree to European demands that they accept the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
At the same time, the leaders urged Brussels to raise contributions of development aid to the region.
The leaders said they were defending their rights as sovereign nations to refuse to adapt their constitutions to European demands.
"We have agreed to ask for respect for the constitutional order in our countries," the presidents declared at the end of their meeting Wednesday.
Accepting the Statute of Rome would mean, among other things, that criminals from these countries could be charged in the Hague court.
Just weeks ago, Guatemala opened the way to reintroduce the death penalty, provoking criticism in Europe. Guatemala's Foreign Minister Haroldo Rodas said his country had been put under pressure by the Europeans to sign the Rome Statute in order to move forward in the negotiations for an Association Agreement.
In late February, the EU criticized the Guatemalan moves as a "highly negative development" and reminded the country that it had voted for a UN General Assembly resolution for a moratorium on the death penalty in December.
Talks about an Association Agreement between Central American states and the EU began in 2006, with a goal of bringing agreements about free trade and other relations under one roof and improving cooperation.