LA PAZ – Bolivia’s vice president on Monday demanded that Chile immediately return two soldiers and seven custom agents detained over the weekend in an incident on the shared border.
The Bolivians were detained on their own country’s territory while attempting to inspect three contraband-laden trucks as they crossed the border from Chile, Alvaro Garcia Linera told a press conference.
“We request the immediate return of our citizens,” he said, adding that the government of President Evo Morales has already filed a formal complaint with Santiago.
Bolivian troops and customs agents carrying out an anti-smuggling operation succeeded in detaining one of the three trucks, though the other two returned to Chilean territory.
The vice president said the military has GPS-verified photographs proving that the soldiers never entered Chilean territory without authorization.
Chile claims the arrests took place on its soil.
He characterized the Chilean detention of the Bolivians as a “kidnapping” and complained that three of the nine captives suffered injuries at the hands of residents of a village on Chile’s side of the border.
News of the incident reached La Paz after the Chileans allowed one of the Bolivian soldiers to contact his commanding officer.
“An illegal economy” is taking hold in northern Chile, Garcia Linera said, asserting that cross-border smuggling has expanded to become a $350 million a year business.
The border episode comes against the backdrop of litigation between Chile and Bolivia before the International Court of Justice over La Paz’s demand for the return of the Pacific coastline it lost to Santiago in a 19th century war.