The leader of an Amazon Indian group has taken refuge at the Nicaraguan embassy, Peru's PM says. Alberto Pizango is wanted on several charges after days of protests against plans for gas and oil exploration on Amazon land left 35 dead.
AFP - A wanted leader of protesting Amazon Indians took refuge in Nicaragua's embassy on Monday, Peru's prime minister said, just days after violent clashes over land rights between Indians and police left 35 dead.
Demonstrations in northern Peru against President Alan Garcia's plans to ease restrictions on mining, oil drilling, wood harvesting and farming in the Amazon region erupted into violence Friday and Saturday.
The clashes were the bloodiest in Peru since the government's war in the 1980s and 1990s against the Shining Path, a violent Maoist insurgency, and the leftist Tupac Amaru guerrillas.
"Barbarians!" screamed one of Lima's tabloids, showing photographs of police killed by protestors wielding spears and machetes in Bagua, a mountainous jungle town about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) north of Lima.
Indigenous communities, protesting for land rights, said the number of civilians killed in the 24-hour orgy of violence around Bagua was higher than the official count.
The Peruvian media put the death toll at anywhere between 12 and 50. Twenty-four police officers were among those killed.
Prime Minister Yehude Simon said late Monday that Alberto Pizango -- wanted on charges of sedition, conspiracy and rebellion -- had taken refuge in the Nicaraguan embassy.
The Indian leader "has already taken asylum," Simon told members of Congress.
Pizango, who was in the capital Lima when the violence in the city of Bagua broke out, spoke to reporters on Friday and accused President Alan Garcia of "genocide" and for "perpetuating the worst slaughter of our people in the last 20 years."
However Pizango's replacement, Daysi Zapata, was just as adamant that the protesters would continue the fight.
"We will never step back, we have not lost this struggle," Zapata said at a press conference. "This government has stained our Peru with blood," she said.
El Comercio, Peru's newspaper of record, decried Garcia's "monumental errors in the handling of the crisis" and pointed to "serious political responsibility."
The "indifference" of Garcia's center-right government "has compelled the (indigenous) movement" to radicalize, the paper opined.
The episode recalled an assault on Shining Path rebels at Lima's Castro-Castro Prison in 1992 that left 43 dead.
Peru has tried to turn the page on the violence of previous decades, confident that its political stabilization and economic growth -- at 9.8 percent in 2008 -- marked a new era.
But after the latest incident, which saw about 400 police move in to clear a road blocked by some 2,500 Indians, critics saw otherwise.
Amazon Indians have been protesting for nearly a year two decrees that Garcia signed in 2007 and 2008 opening jungle areas they consider ancestral lands to drilling for oil and timber.
For the National Organization of the Amazon Indigenous People of Peru (AIDESEP), which represents some 600,000 people divided into 65 ethnic groups, the decrees violate a 1989 International Labor Organization (ILO) convention on the rights of indigenous and tribal people.
The convention emphasizes the rights of native groups to be consulted and to participate in government action.
In late April, several people were wounded and shots were fired in the air in areas where native protesters set up roadblocks, resulting in a state of emergency in areas of Cusco, Ucayali, Loreto and Amazonas provinces.
Less than a month later, AIDESEP leader Pizango declared a "state of insurgency" among the Amazon groups, a call he retracted 24 hours later when extra soldiers were rushed to the troubled areas.
Garcia has complained of foreign involvement in "plots against the country," a reference to Ollanta Humala, leader of the opposition Peruvian National Party (PNP) and a leftist linked to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
"Who would gain from Peru not using gas, not discovering new oil fields or not improving the exploitation of its mines?" Garcia asked Sunday.
Ironically, Peru hosted the Fourth Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples of the Americas in May, welcoming some 5,000 delegates of native groups at Lake Titicaca, high in the Andes in southern Peru.
One of the topics on the agenda: should native groups confront or negotiate with government and multinational organizations?
Date created : 2009-06-09