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General Seeks Answers to Long-running Border Dispute

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

LIMA, Peru, Dec. 3, 1997 – Finding a peaceful solution to an ongoing border dispute occupied Marine Gen. Charles Wilhelm's thoughts as he arrived here Nov. 30.

His visit was part of a series of fact-finding missions he has undertaken since becoming commander in chief of the U.S. Southern Command in September. Other scheduled stops included the Dominican Republic, Barbados and Trinidad.

Neighboring Ecuador has long disputed its common border with Peru, claiming territorial rights to the Amazon River headwaters. In 1942, the United States joined with Brazil, Chile and Argentina as guarantors, to establish protocols for dealing with the dispute, which over the years has alternated between fiery rhetoric and outright warfare. Peru and Ecuador clashed militarily in 1995, but the four guarantor nations were able to quell the combat and establish a ceasefire while the political battle continues.

"Since 1995, we've had a military observer mission for Ecuador and Peru, which I think has been a successful approach to regional peacekeeping," Wilhelm said. "At least there have been no [further] hostilities." Tensions have increased somewhat recently, partly as the result of the Peruvian acquisition of advanced MiG-29 aircraft from the former Soviet Union.

Thanksgiving Week talks in Brasilia between the guarantor nations and Peru and Ecuador sought a lasting solution to the dispute. "Some progress was made, but not as much as I had hoped for," Wilhelm said.

Brazil has picked up the lion's share of support for handling the dispute, particularly aerial monitoring of the troubled region. South America's largest nation recently purchased four Sikorsky H-60 helicopters and has supplanted U.S. military helicopter patrols.

Argentina and Chile also have increased their involvement, as the United States reduces its role. "The United States has been able to step back just a little bit, rather than being the lead on these operations," Wilhelm said.

While the Department of State and National Security Council shape U.S. policies toward South America, Wilhelm said he sees a great benefit to keeping the U.S. footprint here as small as possible. "The Southern Command goal is to promote regional solutions to regional problems and challenges," the general said.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMarine Corps Gen. Charles Wilhelm, commander in chief of the U.S. Southern Command, salutes a Peruvian military officer during a reception at the Lima, Peru, airport Nov. 30, as his translator, Nilda Fitzgerald, left, assists communication. Wilhelm's visit to Peru included meetings with political and military leaders to discuss counterdrug operations and an ongoing border dispute between Peru and neighboring Ecuador. Douglas J. Gillert  
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