Deadly attack stokes Chile Mapuche conflict

Published: Thursday, May 30 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this Feb. 10, 2013 photo, Mariluz Colihuinca plays an accordion during a In this Feb. 10, 2013 photo, Mariluz Colihuinca plays an accordion during a "Guillatun," a spiritual ceremony to ask for the well-being of the clan and strengthen ties, int he Temucuicui Autonomous community in Ercilla, Chile. President Sebastian Pinera has responded to the tensions between Mapuche Indians with land owners and timber companies by enforcing an anti-terrorism law dating back to Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship letting suspects be held in isolation without charges and permitting the use of phone taps and secret witnesses in investigations. Pinera also deployed hundreds of police agents to the region to guard land at risk of of Mapuche attack. (Rodrigo Abd, Associated Press)

VILCUN, Chile — The arson deaths of an elderly couple in their ranch home on land claimed by Mapuche Indians have cast a cold light on the indigenous group's struggle in southern Chile's Araucania region.

Chile's government has spent decades trying to appease Mapuche demands, but violence has only increased. Many blame Mapuche extremists and police overreaction for the current impasse.

Over the past five years, reported acts of violence from the Mapuche struggle have escalated 10 times over, prompting a police response that the indigenous group says has been heavy-handed and abusive.

Now, Chile's government is at an impasse over how to ease tensions. In the last three years, it has returned 10,000 hectare (25,000 acres) to the Mapuche and encouraged timber companies and other landowners to let people till small plots.

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