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FILE PHOTO - Guyana President David Arthur Granger addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York, U.S., September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

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CARACAS/GEORGETOWN (Reuters) - Venezuela on Wednesday panned a decision by the United Nations to refer a century-old border dispute with Guyana to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Guyana is a former British colony of around 750,000 people on the northeastern shoulder of South America.

The contended English-speaking area, which encompasses two-thirds of western Guyana and effectively functions as part of the small nation, is at the heart of the longstanding dispute, revived in recent years after an oil discovery off its shores.

The area is often denoted on Venezuelan maps as a "reclamation zone."

"The Government of Venezuela ... reiterates its willingness to defend the territorial integrity of our homeland," Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said, reading from a statement.

However, Guyana welcomed the decision, saying the ICJ was "the appropriate forum for the peaceful and definitive settlement of the controversy."

"Guyana remains confident in the correctness of its case," said President David Granger in a speech on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Girish Gupta and Vivian Sequera in Caracas, and Neil Marks in Georgetown; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Reuters