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Bolivia's Case on Pacific Access to Continue, World Court Says

An Aymara indigenous woman holds a poster that reads in Spanish "Sea for Bolivia" during a rally in La Paz in support of Bolivia's bid for access to the Pacific Ocean, Sept. 24, 2015.

Bolivia won the first round of its battle against Chile to gain unfettered access to the Pacific Ocean, as an International Court of Justice decision Thursday went in its favor.

The ICJ, also known as the World Court, said it would continue to hear the case brought by Bolivia against Chile, which seeks to force its neighbor to enter negotiations to grant it a corridor to the Pacific Ocean.

Chile had argued that the court had no jurisdiction to hear the case because of a 1904 treaty that fixed its border with Bolivia.

But the court rejected Chile's argument, saying that Bolivia's claim that Chile has an obligation to negotiate "sovereign access" to the Pacific is not dealt with in that treaty.

"The matters in the dispute are not matters already settled by arrangements between the parties ... or governed by treaties in force," Presiding Judge Ronny Abraham of France said, reading the 14-2 decision by the international panel of judges in The Hague.

But the dispute isn't over. The decision does not address the merit of Bolivia's case. It means only that the case will continue.

The court did not say when it would rule, and neither side has advanced its actual arguments.

Bolivians outside the court cheered the finding, and a beaming President Evo Morales said he was "enormously satisfied" with the result.

In Chile, where the decision had been closely followed and broadcast live, President Michelle Bachelet said: "We maintain the firm conviction that the Bolivian demand lacks all basis, as it confuses rights with aspirations."

Landlocked Bolivia lost access to the Pacific following an 1880s war, but the issue has snarled relations with its more affluent Andean neighbor ever since.

In 2013, Bolivia took up the case with the court in the Hague, demanding that Chile negotiate to grant it sovereign access.

Bolivia, which still retains a navy and wants a corridor to the sea to boost exports of natural gas and minerals, currently has low-cost access to Chilean ports.

The International Court of Justice is the United Nations' court for resolving disputes between countries. Its rulings are binding and cannot be appealed.