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Peru Awajun Tribe Retains Alleged Miners

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Members of the Awajun Tribe, living in the northern Peruvian border with Ecuador were retaining as of Tuesday morning as many as eight people still unidentified who were caught camping and using what looked like gold miner tools in an apparent bid to intimidate them into staying out of their territory.

As of noon on Tuesday it was not possible to confirm whether the group was still retained. Calls through the day to Peruvian police to learn information failed to yield any result other than confirming the incident occurred. Native organization AIDESEP did not reply to requests for updates from its last reports where it just confirmed the incident.

A policeman who identified himself by his last name Diaz at the police station of the regional capital of Bagua in the north Amazon said that a police station in the Cenepa region where the incident occurred was closed following the deadly June 2009 confrontations and has not been reopened. He said the closest police station from the area of the incident would be within days travel by raft. He said miners and Natives are basically on their own.

El Comercio newspaper in Lima cited a Native leader it identified as Bernardino Schamick who had said that a group of eight alleged miners that allegedly included one American and seven Peruvians would be released in coming hours on condition they do not re-enter the area. The newspaper said the group was punished by women who rubbed their bodies with nettles. That information could not be independently confirmed.

The Inter-Ethnic Association for the Development of the Amazon—an organization based in Lima that groups some 350,000 Native individuals from the Amazon—had confirmed in a statement Monday that as many as eight alleged miners had been retained and were being investigated by Natives over their activities.

Peruvian officials have said that there are no current permits for any company to explore that area. The Cenepa region was the epicenter of a short air and land war that Peru fought against Ecuador in 1996 over a territorial dispute.

Energy and Mines Minister Pedro Sanchez had announced in February 2010 that rights a company named Afrodita had to explore for gold in the Cenepa area had been cancelled and all operations were suspended.

“About 52 native Amazonian communities from the Condor Mountain Range had accused Cia. Minera Afrodita of poisoning with mercury the Cenepa and Maranon rivers, threatening more than 13,000 people” a statement from the Energy and Mines ministry had said at the time explaining why the concession was ended to calm unrest.

Earlier this month AIDESEP had also alerted that Native groups were organizing protests against illegal gold mining.

According to information from AIDESEP in that statement attributed to Native leader Zebelio Kayap the groups fear that if gold extraction activity reaches the Cenepa then mountainous forest hills would be opened and the entire land and water will become poisoned within just a decade.

The Peruvian government is trying to fight illegal gold miners as they pollute land but often lack resources. Earlier this year it announced an operative to deactivate dredges but then within days stopped as illegal miners threatened strikes and violence.