Peruvian Indians vow to protect Amazon against foreign firms

Two battles in the Amazon jungle killed some 50 people.

Peruvian Indians vow to protect Amazon against foreign firms

Indigenous protesters and Peru's army refused to back down and a truce looked distant on Saturday, after two battles in the Amazon jungle killed some 50 people.

Protesters said 30 of their own died and the government said 22 members of the security forces perished in two days of clashes over President Alan Garcia's drive to bring foreign companies to the rainforest to open mines and drill for oil.

The bloodshed has prompted widespread calls for Garcia's prime minister to quit, underscored divisions between elites in Lima and the rural poor.

Garcia lashed out at the protesters, saying they had attacked their own country, acted like terrorists and may have been incited by "foreigners". A fierce critic of leftist leaders elsewhere in Latin America, Garcia did not say who he meant.

The army imposed curfews, but thousands of Indians with wooden spears vowed to dig in at blockades along remote Amazon highways and keep protesting if government forces did not halt efforts to break up their demonstrations.

"We are fighting because we fear our land will be taken away," said Denis Tangoa 38, a protester at one blockade.

About 10 police officers kidnapped by protesters were killed and nearly two dozen were freed when troops moved in to end a hostage crisis, National Police Chief Miguel Hidalgo told Peru's RPP radio on Saturday. Several hostages were reported missing.

"Taking away our lands"

In a clash on Friday, 11 police died when they broke up a roadblock, about 870 miles (1,400 km) north of Lima along a stretch of highway known as "Devil's Curve" the government said.

At least thirty protesters were killed, according to Champion Nonimgo from AIDESEP, Peru's leading indigenous rights group. "We are talking about more than 30 indigenous deaths so far," Nonimgo said.

The government put the number of protesters killed in Friday's clash at nine.

"Shame on those politicians who can't win elections so they get together irrational groups to do what they did," said Garcia.

Indigenous tribes, worried they will lose control over natural resources, have protested since April seeking to force Congress to repeal new laws that encourage foreign mining and energy companies to invest billions of dollars in the rain forest.

"We are not going to give up until they reverse these laws that will damage us. They want to take away our lands and forest and make our traditions disappear," said Luis Huansi, a leader of the Shawi tribe at a roadblock between the towns of Tarapoto and Yurimaguas.

Men, women and children from the subsistence farming region had occupied the highway. Some were dressed in long red tunics, wore headbands and carried wooden spears. Families have set up tents of plastic sheeting along the roadside.

Indigenous groups oppose laws passed last year as Garcia moved to bring Peru's regulatory framework into compliance with a free-trade agreement with the United States.

Tribes said Garcia's allies acted in bad faith when they blocked a motion in Congress on Thursday to open debate on a law they want overturned. Violence erupted the next day.


Reuters

Güncelleme Tarihi: 07 Haziran 2009, 13:10
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