- The Washington Times - Monday, March 29, 2004

SANTIAGO, Chile - An arms race is developing between Chile and Peru amid renewed border quarrels.

The Peruvian government has criticized Chile’s purchase of four missile frigates from the Netherlands. Defense analysts think the Chilean buildup influenced Peru’s decision to double the number of Lupus-class frigates it will buy from Italy this year — from two to four.

At a press conference in Santiago, Peruvian Deputy Foreign Minister Luis Solari called on the Chilean public to question whether the naval buildup “responds to the country’s true necessities.” His Chilean counterpart, Cristian Barros, instantly defended the arms deal signed with the Netherlands as a policy of “dissuasion.” The statements came as both governments sparred over renewed Peruvian claims on sea boundaries.



The escalating war of words comes after a diplomatic offensive by Bolivia for a sea outlet lost in a 19th-century war, in which Peru also had copper-rich territories and important fishing waters confiscated by Chile. Peru had remained on the sidelines during recent months as Bolivian President Carlos Mesa advanced his country’s claims and his leading domestic opponent, radical socialist Ewo Morales, threatened war. But now Peru has joined the fray.

In surprising declarations during a routine visit to Santiago, Mr. Solari told reporters: “The question of maritime delimitation, which remains pending according to our understanding, has been put before the Chilean government.”

He suggested that the issue be decided through international courts. Clearly irritated, Chilean Foreign Ministry officials responded that the matter was not being discussed.

The U.S. Supreme Court acted as a mediator in the last treaty fixing boundaries between Chile and Peru, negotiated in 1929.

Tensions have been exacerbated further by a border incident in which Chilean marines fatally shot a Peruvian civilian who reportedly was crossing into Chile illegally. Peru’s Foreign Ministry has demanded that Chile apologize and undertake a full investigation, and the Peruvian press has attacked Chile.

Peruvian politicians accuse Chilean pilots on commercial flights over Peru of conducting electronic espionage on military units in Peru’s southern frontier.

Although the Chilean government generally has handled the growing tensions as quietly and diplomatically as possible, an element of war fever shows up in public. News stands display publications with nostalgic accounts of Chile’s triumphant 1879 war, a source of national pride.

“It’s the most extensive and successful war of conquest ever launched by a South American country,” said Chilean film director Charlie Vara, who is making a movie called “Paz” about the hard-fought desert campaign that culminated in Chile’s occupation of Peru’s capital, Lima.

Chile hardly underestimates Peru, which fought a recent border war with Ecuador. Chilean staff officers interviewed by United Press lnternational said Peru’s Russian-built air fleet of MiG and Soyuz fighters outperforms Chile’s aging French Mirages “numerically and qualitatively.”

Peru also is thought to possess more effective antiaircraft defenses, and its Russian T-82 tanks are considered an even match for Chile’s German-made Leopards.

Chile is acquiring 12 American F-16 fighters, and there are plans to augment the army’s air-mobile capabilities with additional Black Hawk and heavy-lift helicopters, Defense Ministry sources say.

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