by Staff Writers
Santiago (AFP) Jan 10, 2012
Leaders of an activist group of Chilean indigenous Mapuche people Tuesday denied government accusations they might have set a forest fire that killed seven firefighters last week.
The fire started Thursday at a private estate in the Mininco Forest about 700 kilometers (440 miles) south of the capital, Santiago, in the Carahue commune area.
"In the face of accusations issued by persons from the current government and right-wing members of Parliament, we say -- emphatically -- that the CAM (Coordinadora Arauco Malleco) had nothing to do with events that occurred at the House of Stone estate in Carahue," a statement by the group said.
The Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco is an organization of the Mapuche indigenous people that seeks to reclaim lands in southern Chile they say were taken from them by the government or private owners, such as forestry companies. The Mapuche are Chile's largest indigenous population, making up about four percent of the population.
The group posted the statement on an Internet blog often used by the Mapuche movement. It was picked up by the local media.
Nevertheless, the Mapuche still claim the forest land as their own property.
"We claim this land as ancestral Mapuche territory taken over by the forestry business, which is why we hold them responsible as the only cause of this tragedy," said the statement signed by Hector Llaitul, political spokesman for CAM.
He is serving a 14-year prison sentence for assaulting a prosecutor in 2008.
The CAM has been blamed for other arson attacks against property or agricultural machinery in the same area, where most of Chile's indigenous communities reside and claim they should be paid restitution for lands they consider their own under ancestral rights.
Immediately after the deaths of the seven firefighters were confirmed, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said the incident demonstrated "criminal intent" and conduct of a "terrorist nature."
Afterward, Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter directed suspicions at Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco and filed a complaint under Chile's anti-terrorism law against the alleged perpetrators of the crime.
Llaitul said invoking the law was a "political strategy" directed "against the Mapuches."
Meanwhile, the US State Department renewed a travel alert Tuesday to American citizens traveling in Chile to beware of regions that have been struck by forest fires in recent days.
The travel alert mentioned the Magallanes, Maule and Bio Bio regions as the areas of greatest concern. The Magallanes region was the site of a devastating fire last week in the Torres del Paine National Park.
The statement urges US citizens "to exercise caution" when traveling to the Torres del Paine National Park or any other affected region.
Forest and Wild Fires - News, Science and Technology
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Suspected arson attacks in Chile as firemen buried
Santiago (AFP) Jan 8, 2012
The home of a Mapuche Indian leader in Chile was destroyed in a suspicious blaze Sunday in an area ravaged by forest fires, which officials say may have been caused by radical indigenous activists. Police said hooded assailants also torched the home of a retired military officer and fired at officers in the forest region of Araucania, as seven firefighters killed there last week in a massive ... read more
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