BBC News
Wednesday, 18 February, 2004

Bolivia 'to pursue coastline issue'

By Clinton Porteous
BBC, Santiago

Bolivia will continue to push to reclaim coastal land from Chile, and it remains the nation's top foreign policy priority, Bolivian Deputy Foreign Minister Jorge Gumucio said at the end of two-day talks in the Chilean capital Santiago.

The minister did not formally raise the issue with his Chilean counterpart - instead, they concentrated on trade issues.

It was the first bilateral talk since the public dispute between the nation's leaders at a regional forum last month. Bolivia wants sea access that it lost 120 years ago in a war with Chile.

In his closing press conference, Mr Gumucio said the issue would be pursued in other forums. He declined to give details.

The Bolivian government has sought international help in its claim against Chile.

Last month, at a regional conference in Mexico, it spilled over into a public dispute between Bolivian President Carlos Mesa and Chile's Ricardo Lagos.

The talks in Santiago were the first bilateral meeting since the summit and were widely seen as a thawing of relations.

During the talks, Chilean Deputy Foreign Minister Cristian Barros repeated the line that Chile would offer Bolivia trade access to the sea but not land.

In the end, the two ministers signed an agreement as a minor trade protocol. Direct talks over the coastal claim still seem a long way off.