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24Sep15


UN's highest court to take up century-old dispute between Chile and Bolivia


The UN's highest court has agreed to take up a century-old dispute between Chile and Bolivia, saying it could rule in the case as La Paz seeks to regain access to the Pacific. The Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ), which oversees disputes between countries, said it "has jurisdiction ... to entertain the application filed by Bolivia". A hearing dealing with the substance of the case, however, is not expected for several months.

Bolivia - South America's poorest country - became landlocked after losing a four-year war against Chile at the end of the 19th century, forfeiting territory and its access to the sea. The two countries have had only limited diplomatic relations since 1978. After a number of fruitless negotiations with Santiago over the issue, La Paz lodged a complaint to the ICJ in April 2013.

Bolivia wants the ICJ to order Santiago to negotiate "in good faith" to restore its access to the Pacific, but it does not specifically ask the court to rule directly on whether it had a right to access. Santiago dismissed the claim, saying the ICJ, set up in 1946, did not have jurisdiction to rule in the matter.

Chile said its territorial sovereignty was defined by treaties signed in 1904 and 1948, which prevent an international court from interfering in the matter and that it was still governed by these treaties today. However, the treaties do not mention "Chile's alleged obligation to negotiate Bolivia's access" to the sea and therefore "Chile's objection to jurisdiction must accordingly be dismissed," ICJ judge Ronny Abraham said.

Bolivia will also be encouraged by a judgment by the ICJ in January last year, which gave Peru some of the maritime territory that had been under Chile's control since the war.

[Source: The Guardian, Afp, The Hague, 24Sep15]

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