Peru sues to ratify Pacific coastal territory
January 16 2008 23:59 - Financial

By Jude Webber in Santiago

Peru has filed a suit with the International Court of Justice in The Hague in a bid to ratify its claim to a chunk of Pacific Ocean bordering Chile.

Chile, which says the issue was settled by two treaties in the 1950s, was incensed at the legal move to clarify the maritime border, saying the waters claimed by Peru are ”unquestionably under Chilean sovereignty and jurisdiction”. Peru says the 1952 and 1954 treaties only governed fishing rights.

Chile says the maritime border continues the land border westwards. Peru, which lost territory to Chile in the 19th-century War of the Pacific, maintains the maritime borders have never been formally established and lays claim to waters in a southwestely line down from the land frontier.

Alan García, Peru’s president, took the unusual step of addressing Congress to announce the suit. Echoing Chile, which voiced profound regret at Peru’s action, he lamented having to take legal action against a neighbour, but said negotiations had not resolved the issue and this was thus the ”civilised and sensible” route to a fair solution.

A ruling by the world court could take years.

Both Chile and Peru stressed they wanted to maintain cordial relations, but the move is a strain on relations that have already been put to the test over the border issue, especially since Peru last year published a map claiming a portion of fishing-rich ocean claimed by Chile.

Peru is shining economically while Chile is underperforming in the region - it was forced to admit on Wednesday that the outlook is worse than expected for 2008.

The Chilean Central Bank, in its bi-annual monetary policy report, forecast growth of 4.5 to 5.5 percent for this year, down from last year’s 5.2 percent, and saw inflation of 4.5 percent. That was higher than previous forecasts of just over 3 percent, though below last year’s 7.8 percent.

Chile also denies territorial claims by Bolivia over the loss of its access to the Pacific in the War of the Pacific. The two countries have no diplomatic relations and Bolivia has made a deal to supply Chile with gas conditional on recovering its Ocean outlet. Peru fought a brief border war with Ecuador in 1995.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008