Thu, Jun 11, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Peru jungle protests spark political crisis

AFP , YURIMAGUAS, PERU

Motorists wait for protesters to allow vehicles to pass at a barricade at the entrance to Yurimaguas city in the Amazon region of northern Peru on Tuesday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

An Amazon standoff between police and indigenous groups that has killed at least 34 people in Peru showed a glimmer of easing on Tuesday, but political fallout from the crisis has heaped pressure on Peruvian President Alan Garcia.

Thousands of Amazon natives who have blocked a key rainforest highway allowed a trickle of vehicles through on Tuesday — a limited concession in the explosive face-off with authorities over land rights.

The demonstrators have been enraged by government plans to ease restrictions on mining, oil drilling, logging and farming in the Peruvian Amazon.

For days approximately 3,000 Indians from 25 ethnic groups have blocked the highway linking the cities of Tarapoto and Yurimaguas, about 700km north of Lima.

After intense negotiations with the police and the government’s Ombudsman’s office, the protesters on Tuesday let vehicles drive through for four hours — two hours in each direction — but made it clear this was an exception.

“We are not going to move until the government overturns the laws that affect our territory,” said Hernan Kariaja, the apu, or senior leader, of the Kandozi Indians.

The standoff comes after violent clashes on Friday and Saturday between indigenous protesters and police left at least 34 dead, including 25 police officers, around the city of Bagua.

Indians engaged in ferocious clashes with government forces, who tried to take back the road by force.

They were the bloodiest clashes since the government’s war in the 1980s and 1990s against the Shining Path, a violent Maoist insurgency, and the leftist Tupac Amaru guerrillas.

Amazon Indians have been protesting for nearly a year over two decrees that Garcia signed in 2007 and last year opening jungle areas they consider ancestral lands to drilling for oil and timber.

The repercussions of the violence were felt in the capital Lima, where Women’s Affairs Minister Carmen Vildoso resigned late on Monday in protest over the government’s crackdown.

Peruvian Prime Minister Yehude Simon — whose head may roll over the violence — acknowledged that Vildoso had been troubled over a government TV spot showing explicit pictures of police bloodied and beaten by protesters.

Congress late on Tuesday held an emergency meeting to either suspend or overturn the controversial decrees.

Previous debate over the decrees had been thwarted by legislators in Garcia’s APRA party.

The crisis even extended its reach to foreign affairs after Nicaragua granted political asylum to Alberto Pizango, the main indigenous protest leader, who earlier took refuge in Managua’s embassy in Lima.

The Garcia administration has issued an arrest warrant for Pizango on charges of sedition, conspiracy and rebellion.

Here in the Amazon the situation remained tense with many of the protesters camped out on the side of the highway.

Bladimiro Tapayuri, a leader of Cocama and Cocaniche Indians, called on the authorities to release protesters arrested in Bagua over the weekend.

“What happened in Bagua needs to be investigated and we need to know the truth about the hundreds of missing brothers,” Tapayuri said.

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