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Security forces kill at least 31 indigenous Peruvians protecting rainforest

06/06/09 PERU, At least 31 people have died in clashes in Peru between the security forces and indigenous people in the Amazon region.

Those killed included at least 22 tribesmen and nine policemen. The violence took place as security forces tried to end a road blockade. Demonstrators also were threatening to set fire to an oil pumping station of state-owned Petroperu unless the government told police to halt efforts to clear weeks of blockades of roads and rivers that have hurt food and fuel supplies.

The local indigenous population is upset at Government plans to open up much of the land in Peru's Amazonia region to oil and gas and to mineral exploration, even though much of the land is officially protected.

Local people say new laws will make it easier for foreign companies to exploit their land for natural resources.

President Garcia said that the protesters had threatened to cut the lines carrying natural gas out of the region. "What else can the government do but act with energy to impose order," Garcia said.

Alberto Pizango, the main indigenous leader, denied that Indians killed police, saying the protesters were unarmed. He called for international human rights groups to intervene.

The protesters want decrees signed by President Alan Garcia in 2007 and 2008 easing restrictions on mining, oil drilling, wood harvesting and farming in the Amazon rainforest overturned. A Duke University study published last year said contract blocks for oil and gas exploration cover approximately 72 percent of Peru's rain forest.

Critics say President Garcia’s policies favoring free-markets and foreign investments mainly benefit elites in cities and that the economic boom has not decreased poverty levels of the poor.

Over the past weeks protesters have taken over airports, blocked bridges and highways, prevented navigation along several rivers, and stopped oil extracted from the Amazon from being shipped out of the region.

This violence also has exposed the central government's lack of control over remote regions of the country. Indigenous land rights are being violated.

The indigenous groups were backed by the International Federation of Human Rights, which groups 155 human rights organisations from around the world.

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See also: "Thousands of indigenous Peruvians protest invasion of Amazon by oil, mining and agricultural companies" of 1 Jun 09, Resource boom threatens indigenous people, EcoEarth newsdesk.

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Indigenous people in Peru's Amazon are being denied rights to their ancestral lands. Peru's Free-Trade agreement is violating their human rights and livelihoods due to their agreement with the United States. Peru's rainforests are being "developed" for oil, mineral and timber without consultation with its traditional owners, and peaceful protests and blockage are being met with military violence. At least 30 indigenous people have been killed, and some security force members.

The financial benefits of this destruction and environmental terrorism will not benefit the indigenous people, or the majority of Peruvians, but a few political and business elite.

President Garcia has dismissed the protests as a result of "leftist" elements, and declared a state of emergency! However, he has failed to recognise indigenous rights to their environmental resources and their traditional lifestyles of subsistence farming.

Despite Peru's economic boom, little has been done to raise poverty levels.

At its worst, free trade agreements undermine democracies and exacerbate huge disparities in wealth and income. Free Trade is not "free" but a way of making the rich even richer while giving as little as possible to those who need it!