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International and local witnesses call Peru conflict a massacre of indigenous

Indigenous and human rights advocates are claiming the conflict between Peruvian military and indigenous protestors is a massacre and they are calling on President Alan Garcia’s administration of Peru to stop the military actions against indigenous and allied demonstrators, with one indigenous organization claiming officials are preventing medical personnel and journalists from seeing the dead and wounded.

In a June 7 press statement, the Inter-ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon, or AIDESEP, referred to the actions as a “massacre” and posted photos on its Web site of military stomping and firing at protestors near Bagua, Peru, scene of the most recent bloodshed. AIDESEP’s President, Alberto Pizango, has been indicted and Peruvian authorities are seeking to arrest him. The organization has called for a nationwide strike beginning June 11.

Gregor MacLennan of the non-governmental Amazon Watch is in Bagua gathering testimonies from blockade participants, local journalists and residents. In a June 6 release, he said, “All eyewitness testimonies say that Special Forces opened fire on peaceful and unarmed demonstrators including from helicopters, killing and wounding dozens in an orchestrated attempt to open the roads. It seems that the police had come with orders to shoot. This was not a clash, but a coordinated police raid with police firing on protesters from both sides of their blockade.

“There have been many accounts of atrocities committed by the Special Forces. Some have reported seeing the police throwing liquid on the cadavers and burning them. Also local residents have given accounts of having seen police throwing bodies of dead civilians into the river in an apparent attempt to underreport the number of dead. We’ve also received accounts that some of those injured were being detained by security forces and denied medical attention leading to additional deaths. There are many people still reported missing and access to medical attention in the region is horribly inadequate.”

The Amazon Watch personnel also stated that, “Over 600 police attacked several thousand unarmed Awajun and Wambis indigenous peoples including many women and children and forcibly dispersed them using tear gas and live ammunition.”

Another leader of some indigenous people who have been involved in the protests, Abel Tsajupat of the Awajun Regional Indigenous Federation of Alto Mayo (FERIAMM) said June 6 that “the government wants to hide how the bodies of the dead and wounded got that way.

“They are not allowing the district attorney, nor the doctors from the Ministry of Health or ESSALUD to get close. The army and the police have killed many Awajun and Wampi brothers, it is said there are 70 dead.”

Tsajupat said vehicles were having difficulty getting to the conflict zone “ …because there are dead and wounded up and down the highway and in the hills.”

Along with accusations from indigenous groups, several national and international organizations are expressing sympathy for the protestors and calling on the Garcia government to stop the military and police actions.

On June 7, the National Human Rights Coordinating Body of Peru (CNDDHH) said it “repudiates the disproportionate use of force by the police against protestors and civilians.”

The CNDDHH requested that the federal government share information on the official number of dead and wounded and the country deserved to know, “the real state of the situation of the detained, wounded and cadavers, process that information and deliver that information to their families quickly.”

In their formal list of demands the national human rights agency repudiated all the violence, “from wherever it comes” and “with the same rigor we condemn the aggression and kidnapping of police officers by protestors.”

Reports varied on the total number, but several police officials were being held hostage near Bagua before June 6.

Amazon Watch, CNDDHH, and many indigenous organizations in Peru were among hundreds of groups now officially protesting the Garcia administration’s handling of the protest and of the issues underlying the conflicts. For the second time since June 2, a United Nations official added her voice to the growing number of Garcia critics.

On June 6, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, president of the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Affairs, called on the Peruvian government to “put an immediate end to the acts of violence against the indigenous communities and organizations.

“I wish to express my indignation and profound concern over the atrocities committed against indigenous peoples after June 5th in the Amazonian region that have resulted in the loss of lives, disappearances, and grave injuries.”

She restated that the Peruvian government was contractually bound to adhere to national and international treaties it had signed which guaranteed indigenous peoples the right to prior consultation before any actions regarding indigenous territories.

As of June 8, the Garcia administration had not pulled the military or police forces from the region.