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The New York Times

A farmer moved a 200 year old stone and the Franco-Belgian border

When it comes to redrawing the boundaries of nations, dozens of diplomats can spend years painstakingly carving out every inch of the dividing line. It appears that only one farmer was required to redraw the border between France and Belgium. A Belgian farmer, apparently frustrated by a 200-year-old stone boundary, dug it up and relocated it about a meter into French territory, telling local officials to the French news media, slightly enlarging his own land as well as the entire Belgian country. Sign up for The Morning Newsletter from the New York Times. The displaced stone was spotted last month by a keen-eyed group of French people who over the past few years have wandered through the countryside of their region in northern France, following the border, and checking every marker they encountered showed a map of the original locations the stones. Two members of the group were walking in the woods near the village of Bousignies-sur-Roc, about 260 kilometers northeast of Paris, in April when they came across a marker. They immediately suspected something was wrong, one of the men, Jean-Pierre Chopin, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “All the markings are usually very precisely placed, but this one has been raised to a higher level. It just looked strange, ”said Chopin. They consulted their map and found that the stone was not in its expected position, but about 2.2 meters further in France than it should be. “It’s a really isolated place,” said 58-year-old Chopin. “Almost no one passes there, so it may never have been discovered that it was moved.” It is unclear how long it has been since the stone was moved – and the farmer in question has not commented on it yet – but Chopin suspected it had been moved for two or three months. The stone markings, believed to each weigh between 300 and 600 pounds, were laid when the 390-mile border between France and what is now Belgium was established under the Treaty of Kortrijk of 1820. It is unclear whether the farmer knew the meaning of the stone carved on his face in 1819. In theory, moving the stone was against the Treaty of 1820, Chopin said. “It’s very, very serious,” he said. “Well, ‘serious’ in quotes because there are of course more important things than these.” Fortunately, local officials in every country have seen the funny side of the situation. “He made Belgium bigger and France smaller. It’s not a good idea, ”said David Lavaux from the Belgian district of Erquelinnes in an interview with the French broadcaster TF1. Lavaux is the mayor of the village, a position equivalent to that of the mayor or the chief judge. Knowing about the incident, Lavaux contacted Aurélie Welonek, who holds a similar position in the French village across the border. “I was happy when my town was bigger, but the mayor of Bousignies-sur-Roc disagreed,” Lavaux said with a chuckle. Lavaux said he would send the farmer, whom he did not identify, a formal letter demanding the return of the stone to its rightful location. If the farmer does not comply, he can be prosecuted. If no agreement can be reached, Lavaux said he would approach the Belgian Foreign Ministry, which would set up a Franco-Belgian commission to settle the border dispute, a move that was last required in 1930. Lavaux and Welonek said in interviews with French news outlets that they were convinced would not come to that. “We should be able to avoid a new border war,” Welonek told the newspaper La Voix du Nord. This article originally appeared in the New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company

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