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Police hostages killed in raid against land rights protesters

Video by Regane RANUCCI , Audrey RACINE


Latest update : 2009-06-07

Dozens have died in clashes between Peruvian police and Amazon tribes protesting at government efforts to attract companies to the rainforest. In the latest incident, nine police hostages were killed in a military raid to release them.

AFP - Nine police hostages have been killed and seven are missing after an attempt to rescue 38 of their colleagues held by Indian land rights protesters in the Peruvian Amazon.

Twenty-two of the hostages were freed in the military raid, which took place in Peru's jungle-covered north, police chief Miguel Hidalgo said Saturday.

"Of the 38 police officers who were taken hostage at the (petrol) facility, where they were providing security protection ... 22 have been rescued by the army, nine have died at the hands of the natives and seven have disappeared," he said in a local radio broadcast.

The police had been protecting the facility in the Imaza region in the rugged western Amazon, when they were captured and held by a group of around 3,000 Indians, Hidalgo said.

He did not indicate if Indians had been killed or injured in the rescue bid.

Police had earlier said they were trying to find the leader of the indigenous group, in the hope of negotiating a peaceful end to the hostage crisis.

It is the latest in a series of bloody clashes between the security forces and indigenous groups, who have been protesting against government land polices.

They have called for the scrapping of decrees, signed by President Alan Garcia in 2007 and 2008, which ease restrictions on mining, oil drilling, wood harvesting and farming in the Amazon rainforest.

Officials have indicated that a total of 20 police officers have been killed in days of violence, along with three civilians.

But the number of Indian and civilian casualties remains unclear. Medical sources told AFP at least seven civilians had been killed. Local media have reported that figure may be as high as 25.

On Friday, fighting broke out when some 400 police officers moved in to break up a roadblock stopping traffic along a highway near the town of Bagua, about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) north of Lima.

Some 2,500 Indian protesters, many carrying spears, had been blocking the highway with tree trunks and boulders.

In the aftermath of the clashes, bloodied Indians arrived to a local medical center with bullet wounds.

Some lay on the floor on a row of thin mattresses that acted as makeshift hospital beds, as medical staff set up drips and tended dressings.

In the aftermath of the violence, the roads around Bagua were strewn with debris.

On the highway, emergency services passed the charred chassis of burnt out vehicles as security forces tried to help traffic resume.

Date created : 2009-06-06