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Peru, Ecuador gang up in Chilean border row

  |   May 6, 2011 at 12:04 PM
LIMA, May 6 (UPI) -- Peru and Ecuador have reached accords that Lima hopes will help its ongoing maritime border dispute with powerful southern neighbor Chile.

The two countries this week signed deals announced as maritime fishing agreements. Behind the scenes, however, both sides clinched the accords mainly to establish an important point going way beyond commerce and fishing rights.

That point relates to conflicting interpretations of previous agreements that Chile maintains recognize and demarcate maritime borders -- mostly to its advantage, while Peru argues the accords covered only fishing rights.

Peru says the accords had nothing to do with determining political boundaries at sea and hopes the agreement will Ecuador will help that argument when Peru's case is heard at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, Netherlands.

Chilean-Peruvian maritime disputes date back more than 120 years to the War of the Pacific, in which Peru as well as neighbor Bolivia lost territory to Chile. Bolivia also lost access to the Pacific Ocean.

Agreements signed in 1952 and 1954 sought to resolve differences but failed to dislodge Chilean control over fishing in an important segment of the Pacific Ocean coastal region.

Central to the row is about 14,500 square miles of fishing-rich sea that Chile controls.

In later years Peru intensified efforts to redraw the sea border with Chile.

A 2005 law under Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo made official the redrawn maritime region, despite Chilean protests it violated treaties signed earlier.

Peruvian media said the decision to sign an accord was proposed by President Rafael Correa of Ecuador during a visit to Peru last year, La Republica newspaper reported.

At that meeting, Correa told Peruvian President Alan Garcia that Ecuador wanted a guarantee there were no border issues between the two countries, Peruvian Foreign Affairs Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde said, indicating the initiative came from Ecuador.

After the request, the two sides began talking about comprehensive agreements on the border issue, agreements that were finally signed this week, Garcia Belaunde said.

The agreements will need to be ratified by the legislatures in the two countries. The accord confirms the maritime border as parallel to the equator cutting west across the Pacific. It also establishes that the two previous agreements of 1952 and 1954 were fishing treaties and maritime border accords. Peru has similar fishing agreements with Chile.

Chile says the current border, which also runs parallel to the equator, was established under the 1950s agreements. However, Peru claims those agreements were fishing treaties and didn't settle the maritime zone dispute.

In January 2007, Peru began proceedings against Chile at the ICJ.

Garcia Belaunde said the signing of the agreement with Ecuador "is important because it ratifies the premise that Peru has always held up that the agreements of 1954 and 1952 are fishing (accords), and that will strengthen our position at The Hague."

Chile accused Peru of hypocrisy over the latest accords with Ecuador.

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