Reuters International

Bolivia's President Evo Morales speaks during a ceremony commemorating May Day in La Paz, Bolivia May 1, 2016. REUTERS/David Mercado

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By Daniel Ramos and Anthony Esposito

LA PAZ/SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Bolivian President Evo Morales accused Chile on Sunday of threatening the landlocked Andean nation by establishing a military base near their shared border, an accusation that Chile's government said was false.

Morales said Chile had set up a base 15 km (9 miles) from the border and close to the disputed Silala River, adding that international norms prohibited installing military bases less than 50 kilometers (30 miles) from international borders in order to avoid confrontations.

"This installation is an aggression to the life, homeland and to Bolivia," the leftist Bolivian leader said during a public appearance in the Santa Cruz region.

Chile and Bolivia have long had thorny relations and are at loggerheads again over access to the Silala River, which crosses their border.

Morales threatened in late March to go to the International Court of Justice in the Hague to resolve the dispute, which had until recently been a low-profile issue.

"Bolivia's government is again looking to divert attention away from its domestic problems with false claims against Chile," Chile's Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement.

It added: "The Bolivian president's accusation that Chile has installed an illegal military base less than 15 kilometers from their border, near the Silala River is completely unfounded. The supposed military installation does not exist."

The ministry said the only military installation near the border was Bolivian, just 1.5 km (0.9 mile) from Chile and near the Silala River.

It said there had been increased military patrols inside Chilean territory to avoid attacks against civilians, theft, contraband and drug trafficking from Bolivia. The strategy had been effective in reducing crime, it added.

Morales, who has been under pressure at home over an unfolding scandal involving a former girlfriend, has argued that Chile has no right to use water from the river, which originates in Bolivian territory and flows into Chile.

Chile, which uses some of the river's water for its mine operations in the Atacama Desert, says the waters are international. Chile is the world's largest copper producer.

(Reporting by Daniel Ramos in La Paz and Anthony Esposito in Santiago; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Paul Simao and Peter Cooney)

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