Reuters International

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Chile on Monday filed a lawsuit against neighbour Bolivia at the U.N.'s highest court in The Hague, seeking a ruling in their decades-old dispute over use of a river that crosses their shared border.

Chilean officials submitted documentation to start formal legal proceedings over the Silala river, asking the International Court of Justice to declare it "an international watercourse" and granting Chile usage rights.

Chile uses some of river water in its parched Atacama desert to feed mine operations. Bolivia wants to charge Santiago for it, claiming ownership of the Silala on the grounds that it originates from springs on its side of the border.

The South American neighbours have been engaged in a separate legal case at the court since 2013, when landlocked Bolivia filed proceedings demanding that Chile grant it access to the Pacific Ocean.

The United Nations Environmental Programme has called the Silala one of the most vulnerable waterbasins in the world "because of the underlying issues of politics, economics, sovereignty, and history".

As desertification and access to water become increasingly relevant, the case will be closely watched by other nations in similar disputes over scarce natural resources.

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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