Wed, Jun 17, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Peru’s government offers concession to Indians in land row


In a conciliatory move, Peru’s government promised Amazon Indians on Monday to ask Congress to revoke decrees that native groups say would make it easier to exploit their lands for oil, gas and other development.

Indigenous peoples’ anger over the decrees spurred two months of blockades of roads and rivers that turned violent on June 5 when police opened fire on activists at a roadblock.

At least 24 police officers and nine civilians were killed, according to the government. Indigenous leaders said at least 30 Indians were killed and accused police of hiding bodies.

Cabinet chief Yehude Simon signed a conciliatory pact after a four-hour meeting with leaders of 390 indigenous communities on Monday in the central jungle town of San Ramon, the state news agency Andina reported. It said the 12-point agreement specified the government would present Congress by tomorrow with a proposal to revoke the decrees.

Environment Minister Antonio Brack, a member of the government delegation, said it also offered to end a state of emergency and curfew in Amazonas state, where the June 5 melee occurred.

He said Indian leaders promised in return to end a blockade that has cut a key road into the central Amazon.

At a news conference, Simon said President Alan Garcia’s attempt to encourage what he called environmentally friendly development had been misinterpreted by the Indians.

He said dialogue was now important to build “confidence that has been lost,” vowing the government “will defend the Amazon from indiscriminate logging and will defend it against environmental contamination.”

Although Peru’s main Amazon Indian federation, AIDESEP, did not participate in Monday’s talks, it will join talks with the government that are to begin immediately in Lima, Andina reported.

The government had previously spurned Indian attempts to be consulted about the fate of development in the Amazon region.

“We don’t reject dialogue. On the contrary, dialogue and peace in the Amazon is what we want,” Ruben Binari, a leader of the Machiguenga people in the Urubamba region, told reporters.

Congress indefinitely suspended the controversial decrees last Wednesday, a day ahead of a nationwide wave of mostly peaceful anti-government protests.

The decrees, including a forestry law widely interpreted as promoting biofuel crops and logging, were among several promulgated by Garcia to comply with a free trade agreement with the US that took effect in January.

The leader of the Amazon protests, AIDESEP President Alberto Pizango, remained in Nicaragua’s embassy on Monday. He sought refuge there after sedition and rebellion charges were filed against him. Nicaragua granted him political asylum but he has not received safe passage out of Peru.

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