SANTIAGO– Eleven Mapuche Indians have been arrested in connection with the attack last October on prosecutor Mario Elgueta and five police officers in Chile’s southern Bio Bio region, officials said.
Seven of the suspects were arrested in an operation involving 130 police officers in the towns of Puerto de Choque and Cañete, located some 600 kilometers (373 miles) south of Santiago.
Jose Huenuche, Javier Navarro, Ramon Llanquileo and Luis Menares, along with brothers Norberto, Cesar and Juan Parra Leal, were arrested in Saturday’s sweep.
Four other suspects, identified as Richard Muhuel, Segundo Ñehuen, Carlos Muñoz and Elcides Huiqueman, were already in custody for allegedly stealing wood from property owned by lumber company Mininco.
Regional prosecutor Ximena Hassi charged the 11 Indians with attempted murder and criminal conspiracy.
The suspects, who are all members of the Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco, or CAM, will remain in prison for nine months while prosecutors complete the investigation.
On Oct. 15, the vehicles carrying Elgueta and the police officers were ambushed by hooded assailants in the strife-torn Indian-populated southern region of La Araucania.
The police officers engaged the assailants in a gunbattle that lasted about 30 minutes and managed to repel them.
Elgueta, who sustained minor wounds in his left hand and head, was investigating previous violence blamed on Mapuche Indian militants.
The five police officers all sustained minor wounds in the incident.
“The vast majority of the Mapuche people are fully integrated into the Chilean state and we are not going to allow these small groups to try to confuse things and involve the Mapuche people in an escalation (of violence) that makes no sense,” acting Interior Minister Patricio Rosende said.
The CAM, the most militant of the Mapuche organizations, usually issues statements after mounting attacks against the land barons and timber companies the Indians accuse of illegally usurping their ancestral territory.
“Of the 2,800 Indian communities in the entire country, no more than 10 have had some type of activity similar to the CAM. That’s the reality,” Rosende said.
Southern Chile has been the scene of long-running land disputes between Mapuche communities and farmers and lumber firms, with the conflicts often turning violent.
Mapuche Indian activist Matias Catrileo was shot in the back during a clash with police on Jan. 3, 2008.
Catrileo was trying to occupy a ranch with several other activists in La Araucania, a region located some 670 kilometers (416 miles) south of Santiago, when police opened fire on them.
The Mapuches, Chile’s largest indigenous group with slightly more than 600,000 members, demand the constitutional recognition of their tribal identity, rights and culture, as well as ownership of the lands that belonged to their ancestors.