Friday, June 17, 2011
Bolivian Troops Cross Into Chile
A Bolivian army patrol strayed into Chilean territory, where police intercepted it and took the 14 soldiers into custody. All indications are that it was an accidental crossing, and the two countries are resolving the manner as cordially as could be expected. Chile sent a formal complaint to La Paz; Bolivia's government called it an isolated incident. Nonetheless, press reports reveal some surprising aspects of the Bolivian force. The patrol, for example, was in military uniforms but was riding civilian vehicles -- with Chilean license plates. Most of the troops were in a Toyota van and the rest in a Daihatsu SUV. Police first spotted the van around 2 am Friday, June 17, about 270 km northeast of Iquique, then the SUV. The 14 Bolivians were poorly armed, with a total of three 9mm pistols and two 5.56mm assault rifles. Chile's police treated the incident as an illegal immigrant crossing, and sent the Bolivians to a judge for questioning and likely deportation. Bolivia's government says it had recently beefed up patrols along the Chilean border to combat the smuggling of stolen vehicles into Bolivia. In fact, the Toyota and the Daihatsu had been confiscated from smugglers. While the incident is working itself out, it comes at a tense time, just as Bolivia intensifies efforts to win back access to the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia lost its coastal territory in the 1879-1883 war against Chile. UPDATE: The patrol was returned to Bolivia on Sunday, June 19, without charges. Bolivia's government maintains no harm was meant, and that the patrol wandered into Chile in an area where the border is not clearly marked. The daily La Tercera, quoting Chile's foreign ministry, says accidental Bolivian and Peruvian troop crossings aren't that unusual, with at least three incidents occurring in recent years. Regarding the Chilean-registered vehicles the soldiers were using, Bolivia says the troops took control of them after being abandoned by smugglers.