- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2009

LIMA, Peru| At least nine Peruvian police officers were killed Saturday as soldiers stormed an oil-pumping station in the Amazon, where Indian protesters were holding police hostage, the country’s defense minister said.

The deaths brought to 22 the number of police killed seven with spears since security forces moved early Friday to break up a roadblock by Peruvian Indians who oppose government moves to exploit oil and gas and other resources on their lands. Protest leaders said at least 30 Indians, including three children, died in the clashes. Authorities confirmed only nine civilian deaths, but said 155 people were injured.

The political violence is the Andean country’s worst since the Shining Path insurgency was quelled more than a decade ago, and it bodes ill for President Alan Garcia’s ambitious plans to boost Peru’s oil and gas output.

It began early Friday when security forces moved to break up a roadblock by some 5,000 Indians that was mounted in early April. About 1,000 protesters seized police during the melee, taking more than three dozen hostage, officials said.

Twenty-two officers were rescued in Saturday’s storming of Station No. 6 at state-owned Petroperu in Imacita, in the jungle state of Amazonas, Defense Minister Antero Florez told the Radioprogramas radio network. He said seven officers were missing.

Among at least 45 casualties being treated at the main hospital in the Amazonas town of Bagua was local Indian leader Santiago Manuin, who received eight bullet wounds Friday, said a nurse who identified herself only as Sandra for security reasons. Also Saturday, a judge ordered the arrest of protest group leader Alberto Pizango on sedition charges for purportedly inciting the violence, said the president of Peru’s Supreme Court, Javier Villa Stein.

On Friday, Mr. Pizango accused the government of genocide for attacking what he called a peaceful protest. Indians have been blocking roads, waterways and a state oil pipeline intermittently since April 9, demanding that Peru’s government repeal laws they say help foreign companies exploit their lands.

The laws, decreed by Mr. Garcia as he implemented a Peru-U.S. free-trade pact, open communal jungle lands and water resources to oil drilling, logging, mining and large-scale farming, Indian leaders and environmental groups say. In addition to violating the Peruvian Constitution, Indian groups contend, Mr. Garcia is breaking international law by failing to obtain their consent for the projects.

Mr. Garcia defends the laws as necessary to help develop Peru. The government owns all subsoil rights across the country, and Mr. Garcia has vigorously sought to exploit its mineral resources.

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