SANTIAGO – Seven police were shot in a clash with Mapuche Indians in the southern region of Araucania, Chilean authorities said Wednesday.
Members of an elite unit of the Carabineros – Chile’s militarized national police – were ambushed while escorting firefighters battling blazes set by Mapuche militants, according to an official statement.
The Mapuches fired pellets at the cops, wounding seven of them.
The injured officers are listed in satisfactory condition at the Naval Hospital in Talcahuano.
The incident began Monday, when some 30 Mapuche militants entered a property owned by a forestry products firm, set fires and blocked the gate with tree trunks.
Carabineros dislodged the intruders, but the Mapuches returned to the scene on Tuesday.
“They emerged from the sides of the forest to attack our officials who guarded the perimeter where the firefighters were working,” the local Carabineros commander, Col. Mario Lopez, told reporters Wednesday.
“They know the terrain well, the shortcuts, and that’s why they escaped,” he said of the assailants.
A Mapuche leader was sentenced last week to 18 years in prison for the January 2013 arson deaths of an elderly couple in Araucania.
The deaths of Werner Luchsinger Lemp and wife Vivian Mackay Gonzalez came against the backdrop of the “Mapuche conflict,” which has seen indigenous militants in Araucania torch vehicles, highway toll booths and lumber shipments as part of a struggle to reclaim lands the Mapuches lost during a 19th century “pacification” campaign.
Those lands are now largely occupied by lumber and agricultural interests.
The conflict has also claimed the lives of three Mapuches and a Carabinero officer, while dozens of indigenous activists have been jailed.
Mapuches make up around 650,000 of Chile’s 17 million people and are concentrated in Araucania and greater Santiago.