SANTIAGO – A Chilean court ruled on Wednesday that the nine Bolivian citizens, two of them soldiers and the others customs officials, arrested on the weekend in Chile are to be held in jail while authorities examine the case.
A court in the northern town of Pozo Almonte found that enough evidence was presented before it to conclude that the foreigners were definitely inside Chile and participating in the crimes of robbery with violence, shipment and possession of prohibited weapons and smuggling.
The Chilean government says that the Bolivians were found some 400 meters (yards) inside its territory in the northern part of the country, all of them heavily armed and en route to hijack nine trucks carrying assorted merchandise.
Bolivian authorities, on the other hand, claim that the nine men were in Bolivian territory fighting the smugglers who illegally transport various items from Chile to Bolivia.
Based on the statements of the victims, however, along with photographic evidence and the map of the site where the trucks were seized, the court found that the deeds “occurred on Chilean territory.”
Chile claims that the Bolivians did hijack one truck and are facing “very long prison terms” if found guilty, given the nature of the crime and the fact that they were so heavily armed, apparent proof that they were willing to resort to violence.
The nine were sent to the Alto Hospicio prison in the northern Tarapaca region, where they will have to remain for the 120 days Chilean authorities are allowed to investigate the case.
After the group hijacked the truck, they attempted to flee back to Bolivia, escorted by other Bolivian vehicles, but the poor condition of the truck caused it to break down about a kilometer (0.6 mile) from the border leading to their capture by Chilean authorities.
The arrest of the Bolivian officials sparked a new bilateral conflict with opposing views of the incident being espoused by the two sides and by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and her Bolivian counterpart, Evo Morales.