Peru, Chile presidents trade barbs in spy spat

AP News
Posted: Nov 17, 2009 6:08 PM

Peruvian officials said Tuesday that an air force officer has confessed to passing national security secrets to Chile, where President Michelle Bachelet denied the espionage allegations, calling them offensive.

The spy arrest reported last week has created a diplomatic crisis between the neighboring South American nations, whose relations were already prickly due to disputes over sea rights.

Peru's chief Cabinet Minister Javier Velasquez told America Television station that the proof of spying includes the officer's confession, an Internet address in Chile to which he passed information, money transfers from Chile to Peru and his travel itineraries for frequent visits to Chile.

Velasquez said that five others were involved in the spying ring, including Chilean military officers, and that Peru will work with Interpol to confirm the evidence collected.

On Friday, a Lima judge ratified charges against noncommissioned officer Victor Ariza, 45, and another, unidentified member of the air force for allegedly revealing national secrets, espionage and money laundering. The judge also issued an arrest warrant for two members of the Chilean military, according to a court statement.

Peru President Alan Garcia on Monday accused Chile of acting as a dictatorial "psuedo-republic" for allegedly buying Peruvian national security secrets.

Bachelet condemned the comments as "offensive and haughty" on Tuesday and said there should be more respect from her Peruvian counterpart if the countries are to continue to cooperate.

Bachelet's Foreign Minister Mariano Fernandez said that Peru had not yet passed along official information on the alleged espionage as promised and called for Peru to cast aside insults.

Peru Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde said the information will be sent soon.

"It's not like we are asking a lot. They must investigate, find those responsible and sanction them," Garcia Belaunde told Lima-based Radioprogramas on Tuesday.

Chile has held its ambassador to Peru _ who was on vacation _ back in Santiago, while Peru's ambassador to Chile was called back to Lima to advise Garcia.

But Garcia Belaunde rejected calls from Peru's opposition party to break off diplomatic ties with Chile and Defense Minister Rafael Rey said the spat should not affect commerce.

"The president has been very clear that this does not have anything to do with the Chilean people. Chilean investments in Peru are secure," Rey told reporters in Lima on Tuesday.

Relations have been tense since Peru took a maritime border dispute to the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands last year.

Peru still holds a grudge against its wealthier neighbor for taking a chunk of its southern territory in the 1879-84 War of the Pacific.