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Peru Confrontations Leave Three Dead, Police Averts Massacre

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Confrontations between a group of some 1,200 police who had been deployed to try to contain growing popular unrest and some 4,000 farmers who opposed a copper mine project left three dead and dozens injured in south Peru in early April just before elections.

On Thursday, April 7, groups of police tried to open roads connecting the second largest Peruvian city of Arequipa to its main port and fuel tanks at nearby Mollendo blocked by farmers opposing a mine in the area for several days.

Police general Carlos Mateo told Canal N in Lima, some 700 miles north from the area of the violence, that he decided to stop fighting the protesters and withdraw entirely from the 25,000-population town of Mollendo despite pillaging and government buildings ablaze to avoid shooting more bullets.

Health officials had confirmed the death of three people and more than 60 injured—six of them by bullet—in fighting that lasted from Monday to Thursday as the government tried control the unrest before the police was overpowered. More information about the fighting is unavailable, even with the ombusdman’s office.

On April 8 Peruvian officials announced the plans by Southern Copper, a Mexican-owned company with offices in Phoenix, to build a mine in the Islay area of southern Peru starting later this year will be abandoned as needed permits will not be granted. Protesters immediately peacefully dispersed. The company since said it regrets the loss of life and all the damage to property in the last days.

Peruvian officials and government-run media such as state news agency Andina did not have reports on the violence and the takeover of the port as it was occurring. The state-owned Canal 7 television channel had no information and ministers and other officials were mum.

President Alan Garcia made a comment at the same time the violence was occurring—but during an unrelated even at a school inauguration in Lima—broadly saying authorities in Peru must do what they are ordered and should not, like he said he would never do, “run away at the first shot.” This was before Mateo spoke to local television later that day.

Garcia’s government is notorious for the infamous June 5, 2009 killings that occurred as police with armed rifles were sent to clear a road of 4,000 Native protesters. Unlike Mateo, police generals in charge of the 2009 operative, ordered the opening of fire against masses. Three police and military generals have been sentenced and fined by a military court in contradiction to the line of Garcia officials who wanted in 2009 to award medals to the generals.

The farming groups protesting had threatened to boycott a presidential vote April 10. According to the latest vote count available Monday morning, left oriented candidate Ollanta Humala and the daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, Keiko Fujimori, will go into a second round vote June 5 to see who will become president for five years starting July 28.

Unlike Natives in the Amazon who belong to ancient ethnic groups and keep a nomadic lifestyle and treat land and agriculture with respect of ancient tradition, farmers in south Peru are mostly mestizo who mostly farm and do business in accordance to western ways.