Peru to quell indigenous protests

LIMA: Peru authorized the armed forces Saturday to back up police to quell indigenous groups' protests over Amazon land, oil and mineral rights, after protestors declared an insurgency against the government.

The Ministry of Defense in a decree said it "authorizes for 30 days the intervention of the armed forces to ensure the continued functioning of essential services in select districts" of five provinces in Peru's Amazon rainforest region.

The military said their involvement seeks to ensure the operation of roads and airports, and the supply of water and electricity.

Protests have erupted in response to government moves to open the region to oil exploration and development by foreign companies under a set of liberalizing decrees that President Alan Garcia signed in 2007 and 2008.

French oil company Perenco last month announced plans to invest more than two billion dollars to develop a field in the Maranon River basin in northeastern Peru, a measure of the stakes involved for the Garcia government.

Alberto Pizango, the leader of a movement of 65 indigenous groups, said they had agreed "to declare our peoples in insurgency against the government of President Alan Garcia in the indigenous Amazon territories.

"This means our ancestral laws will become obligatory laws, and we will regard as aggression any force that tries to enter our territory," he said.

His statement followed the government's May 8 declaration of a 60-day state of emergency in areas of the Amazon, suspending constitutional guarantees in an attempt to suppress protests, which have targeted airports, bridges and river traffic.

Talks between protest leaders and cabinet chief Yehude Simon in Lima Wednesday failed to defuse the conflict.

"The solution is to revoke those decrees," said Pizango. The decrees eased restrictions on oil and other forms development in territories claimed by indigenous groups.

"This is not a mere whim. The government has not consulted us. We are not against development even though we are portrayed as being against the system. What we want is development from our perspective," he said.

"The government wants to take our territory to give it to the big multinational companies. There are riches there like oil, wood, gold -- riches that arouse the ambitions of the world's wealthy," he said.

The indigenous groups on Tuesday gained the backing of the International Federation of Human Rights, which groups 155 human rights organizations from around the world. It called on Peru to rescind the decrees because of the government's failure to consult indigenous peoples.

Government officials acknowledge that the country's indigenous groups have historically been marginalized, but insist that Peru's constitution makes the state the owner of the country's mineral wealth.

"Undersoil resources do not belong to the indigenous people but to all Peruvians," Environment Minister Antonio Brack told reporters on Tuesday.