SANTIAGO – A court in the northern Chilean town of Pozo Almonte ruled on Monday that the arrest of nine Bolivian government personnel during a border incident was legal and ordered the foreigners held for at least two additional days pending an investigation.
Chile contends the Bolivians – two soldiers and seven customs agents – were detained roughly 400 meters (yards) inside Chilean territory.
La Paz, meanwhile, insists that its citizens remained inside Bolivia and has demanded their immediate return.
The next hearing in the case is set for Wednesday in Pozo Almonte, prosecutors said.
The Bolivians “were in Chilean territory committing crimes,” President Michelle Bachelet told a press conference. “They wanted to steal nine cargo trucks and one was stolen.”
Her Bolivian counterpart, Evo Morales, described his compatriots in Chilean custody as “hostages of injustice.”
“Chile, with its vocation of aggression against Bolivia, is showing nervousness ahead of the force of our response in The Hague,” Morales said on Twitter a day before his government is due to present a new submission to the International Court of Justice in connection with La Paz’s demand for the return of the Pacific coastline it lost to Santiago in a 19th-century war.
Bachelet said she had not been in touch with Morales about the border flap and that it would up to the Chilean courts to determine the truth.
Facing reporters earlier Monday, Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera said that the soldiers and customs agents were detained on their own country’s territory while attempting to inspect three contraband-laden trucks as they crossed the border from Chile.
The vice president said the Bolivian military has GPS-verified photographs proving that the soldiers never entered Chilean territory without authorization.