Chevron Corp said on Wednesday it had filed an international arbitration claim against Ecuador, opening a new front in its defense against a $27 billion environmental damage claim in Ecuadorean court.

Chevron has complained repeatedly of government interference in the 16-year-old case, in which indigenous communities have accused Texaco, bought by Chevron in 2001, of damaging the environment and their health while operating petroleum facilities in the region.

Chevron said the arbitration proceeding has been commenced before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague under United Nations international trade law.

Chevron says that in 1998, Ecuador and state oil company Petroecuador released Texaco from further liability after remediation work was completed.

But plaintiffs in the case argue that the release did not deal with private claims against the company.

(Reporting by Braden Reddall; Editing by Richard Chang)