Peruvian armed forces clash with indigenous protesters; 25 reported dead.
Taken from Indymedia article:
"Bagua, Peru (June 6, 2009) – In the early morning hours on Friday, Peruvian Special Forces staged a violent raid on a group of indigenous people at a peaceful blockade on a road outside of Bagua in a remote area of the northern Peruvian Amazon resulting in 25 civilians confirmed dead and over a hundred wounded. 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.
Dramatic photos (see link below) of the attack show clearly the police brutally beating and shooting demonstrators at close range. At 2am police began to approach the demonstrators as they were sleeping along the Fernando Belaúnde Terry road. Demonstrators refused to move from the roadblock as police in helicopters fired teargas grenades and live ammunition. Eyewitnesses report that police also attacked from both sides firing live rounds into the crowd as people fled into surrounding steep hillsides, many becoming trapped. As the unarmed demonstrators were being killed and injured some wrestled with police, fighting back in self-defense, which resulted in the reported deaths of nine police officers.
In local radio reports the chief of police claimed that the indigenous demonstrators were armed and fired first. This claim has been strongly rejected by dozens of local eyewitnesses including local journalists who confirmed that Amazonian demonstrators have been entirely peaceful and only bear traditional spears and in no way provoked any violence. A point highlighted by the fact that the blockades have been going on for 56 days without a single incident.
Gregor MacLennan of Amazon Watch who is currently in Bagua gathering first hand testimonies from blockade participants, local journalists and residents stated: "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."
Peru's Ombudsman's office issued a strong statement yesterday demanding an end to the violence. Letters condemning the government's actions are pouring in from thousands of Peruvians and international human rights activists and organizations. Today, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the chair of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues of the United Nations issued a letter expressing "shock and deep distress at reports received of atrocities committed" and calling on the government to "Immediately cease all violence against indigenous communities and organizations."
Indigenous peoples have vowed to continue protests until the Peruvian Congress revokes the "free trade" decrees issued by President Garcia under special powers granted by Congress in the context of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States.
In the past two weeks, the Constitutional Committee of Congress has ruled that legislative decrees 994 and 1090 were unconstitutional. The Peruvian Congress was scheduled to debate the revocation of decree 1090 again on Thursday, however, Garcia's political party, for the third time, prevented the debate preferring instead to attack the peaceful blockades. The government Ombudsman office has filed a legal action with the constitutional tribunal regarding the unconstitutionality of decree 1064, which affects the land rights laws in Peru.
"Garcia has rejected several congressional debates on the decrees, opting for violent attacks and brute force that will only worsen this conflict. It is outrageous that the ministers are now attempting to blame the victims for this incident and cover up the number of indigenous people
dead," said Gregor MacLennan.
The protests have provoked national debate about government policies in the Amazon that ignore indigenous peoples and encourage large-scale extractive industries in Amazonian lands. Indigenous peoples assert that new laws undermine their rights and open up their ancestral lands to private companies for mining, logging, plantations, and oil drilling without their consultation or consent.
AIDESEP, the national indigenous organization of Peru presented a legal petition yesterday for "precautionary measures" to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights requesting intervention to prevent more bloodshed. Orders for the arrest of leaders of AIDESEP, including Alberto Pizango who is being charged with sedition, were put in effect on Friday.
A coalition of human rights and environmental organizations are urging the Garcia Government to stand down and cease violent confrontations by the military and calling for solidarity demonstrations at Peruvian Embassies around the world. There were demonstrations on Friday at the Peruvian Government missions in San Francisco and Washington, DC. More are planned next week.
AIDESEP, the national indigenous organization of Peru has called for a nationwide general strike starting June 11th.
For Background information see additional links and www.aidesep.org.pe.
*I do warn that some of the later pictures on the link above are very graphic!