The jungle massacre: Peru's tribal chief flees country

Amazon leader seeks refuge at Nicaraguan embassy after followers killed in clashes over oil and logging laws

The leader of Peru's Amazon Indians will be flown to exile in Nicaragua after seeking asylum following violent demonstrations that killed scores of police and protesters.

Alberto Pizango, the head of Aidesep, which represents 56 tribes, spent yesterday at the Nicaraguan embassy in Lima. Dozens of his followers died during protests against new laws that will leave swathes of their ancestral homelands open to oil and gas exploration. He has been charged by his own government with "sedition, conspiracy and rebellion".

The London-based pressure group, Survival International, called on oil firms to withdraw from Peru, describing the incident as "The Amazon's Tiananmen" and accusing security forces, who have since imposed a curfew over the region, of burying and burning corpses to hide the scale of the killing.

"Peruvian Indians are being driven to desperate measures to try to save their lands which have been stolen from them for five centuries," said Survival's director, Stephen Corry. "This is the Amazon's Tiananmen. If it finishes the same way, it will also end Peru's international reputation."

Violence broke out on Friday when 2,000 Aguaruna and Wampi Indians, many carrying spears and machetes, clashed with heavily armed police officers following a highway stand-off near the rural town of Bagua Grande, roughly 870 miles north of the capital.

Human rights lawyers have since accused the President Alan Garcia's regime of an orchestrated cover-up. Official figures put the death toll at just 32, including 23 policemen. News reports say the number of deaths is closer to 60, and vast numbers of missing people have yet to be accounted for.

Trade unions are organising a strike across the country today, hoping to fan public outrage over the incident, which began when police fired tear gas and automatic weapons into noisy crowds of protesters. A delegation of human rights lawyers, who visited the scene yesterday, told the BBC hundreds of demonstrators were still missing. "I say to the authorities they should take care because sooner or later the facts of what happened will come to light," said one of the lawyers, Ernesto de la Jara, from the Institute for Legal Defence. "Dead bodies may be covered up for now but, little by little, the truth will come out and they will have to respond."

The crisis follows months of escalating controversy over Mr Garcia's attempts to implement a free trade agreement with the US. New laws, brought in to increase the number of oil and logging concessions in the country's 67 million hectares of rainforest, appear to allow for the sale of tribespeople's ancestral territories.

In April, Aidesep supporters began blocking roads and rivers in rural areas of the country. A crucial oil pipeline across northern Peru has been shut down since the end of the month, costing the state oil company an estimated US $ 120,000 (£75,000) a day.

Mr Garcia has long talked of turning Peru into an oil superpower by opening its forests to exploration from firms like France's Perenco, Spain's Repsol and the US company, ConocoPhillips. However his plans are being tested by protesters blocking remote parts of the country's road network. "We don't get anything from this huge exploitation, which also poisons us," Mateo Inti, a leader of a group of Aguaruna Indians , told the Associated Press. "We've never seen any development and my community lives in poverty."

Indigenous people, who account for almost half of Peru's 28 million inhabitants, have for years had a tense relationship with the ruling class, who are largely descended from Europeans. Mr Garcia's has attempted to dismiss his Amazonian opponents as brutal savages, accusing them of "elemental ignorance".

The crisis is eating into the presidential power-base. Last night, Peru's parliament voted to suspend the controversial land laws for 90 days, until public order is restored. On Monday, Carmen Vildoso, a populist minister often described as Peru's Margaret Thatcher, had quit the cabinet in protest at Mr Garcia's handling of recent events.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore