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UN high court rules on Chile, Peru border dispute

LIMA, Peru--The United Nations' highest court set a maritime boundary between Chile and Peru on Monday that grants Peruvians a bigger piece of the Pacific Ocean while keeping rich coastal fishing grounds in the hands of Chilean industry.

Despite high emotions over the dispute, especially in Peru, the ruling is expected to have little effect on cordial ties between the two neighbors whose economic interdependence has grown greatly in recent years.

Chile's outgoing president, Sebastian Pinera, called the International Court of Justice's ruling “a lamentable loss” in a nationally televised address. But President-elect Michelle Bachelet, who takes office in March, said that “most of the fishing occurs inside the area that the court ratified as belonging to our country.”

Peru's leader, Ollanta Humala, told his countrymen on national TV that he was satisfied with the outcome, saying the court had recognized Peru's argument that no maritime treaty previously existed between the South American neighbors.

Peruvian patriots might crow, but Chilean commercial fishing fleets appeared to be the biggest beneficiaries, analysts said.

In Chile's northern port of Arica, police dispersed a group of fewer than 100 small-time fishermen with water cannon after some, considering themselves losers, hurled stones at a military barracks.

“Only the rich are profiting from this,” said Eduardo Ferreira, a street vendor who sells paintings on the main square of Chile's capital, Santiago, where police had to break up a few heated arguments between Chileans and Peruvians.

The ruling announced in a European courtroom ends a decades-old dispute centered on nearly 38,000 square kilometers (14,670 square miles) of the world's richest fishing grounds — the value of the area's annual catch has been estimated at US$200 million.

Peruvian historian Nelson Manrique called the ruling an “intelligent verdict” that is “not going to please anyone but it's also not going to bring anyone to fits.”

The case filed by Peru in 2008 was a matter of national pride for Peruvians, some of whom maintain rancor over the 1879-83 War of the Pacific in which Chile gained its three northernmost provinces by winning territory from Peru and Bolivia. Bolivia lost its coast in the conflict.

Humala, a retired army officer when he was elected Peru's president, called Monday “one of the days that will mark my life, and I feel proud to have lived as a soldier and now as a politician. I feel prouder every day to be Peruvian.” The national anthem then played.

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Peru's President Ollanta Humala, left, holds a Peruvian national flag during a rally celebrating the United Nations' highest court ruling on a maritime boundary between Peru and ...

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