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  •  Bolivian President Evo Morales holds a bottle containing water from the Silala stream at a past G77 Summit.

    Bolivian President Evo Morales holds a bottle containing water from the Silala stream at a past G77 Summit. | Photo: EFE

Published 27 March 2016

Bolivia and Chile have been spatting over access to the sea for years, and the two sides are now involved in another legal battle over water.

Bolivia has announced it will file a new lawsuit against Chile before the International Court of Justice, or ICJ, for using water from a freshwater stream that lies between the two countries. 

According to Bolivian officials, Chile has been “abusing” the Silala stream — which lies in the cliffs along the border between the two countries — and using its waters “illegally” without paying a penny.  

PHOTO GALLERY: Bolivia Marks Annual Day Of The Sea

“Now that Chile seeks to confuse the issue, with all the more reason, with all the more force and documentation will we present our case at The Hague to establish our sovereignty over the waters of Silala,” said Bolivian President Evo Morales during a speech at the central Bolivian municipality of Tacachi. 

Bolivia argues that the Silala waters, located in Bolivian province of Potosi, were channeled to the north of Chile for use by the Chilean firm Antofagasta & Bolivia Railway Company.   According to the Bolivian government, Chile must admit “it is stealing water from Potosi province.” 

However, Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz maintains that Silala is an international river, citing a 1904 bilateral treaty signed with Bolivia.  

ANALYSIS: Bolivia's Claim to the Sea: What's at Stake and Why it Matters

The two countries have long bickered over the Silala waters, but tensions have diminished in recent years mainly because of Bolivia's demand that Chile restore it access to the Pacific Ocean has taken precedence. Bolivia lost its access to the sea after The War of the Pacific (1879-1883) between the two countries and Peru. The issue has been the subject of a trial at The Hague since 2013.  

The Silala water issue came back to the spotlight after Bolivian President Evo Morales referenced it in a speech Wednesday during Bolivia's Day of the Sea, which commemorates the 137 years since the loss of its Pacific coast.

Chilean authorities said they will “not accept” what they call Bolivia's “hostile policies towards Chile” and “will defend themselves with everything,” according to Muñoz. This will include filing a counterclaim with the ICJ against the land-locked nation, added the foreign minister. 

WATCH: Bolivia Remembers Sea Access Lost to Chile

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