Chile's indigenous activists blamed for arson deaths

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 January, 2013, 3:40am


A farmer and his wife were burned to death as their house was set on fire in southern Chile, with authorities blaming indigenous activists for the "terrorist" act.

The fire comes amid a wave of attacks in recent weeks in territories where the indigenous Mapuche Indians claim historic rights. The government has blamed the violence on a radical movement within the group.

"We are witnessing, once again, an act of a terrorist nature, a very serious act of attempt on the life of two people who have been a symbol in the struggle for the defence of their land," Interior Minister Andres Chadwick said. He said the government would investigate the incident under Chile's anti-terrorism act, which carries tougher penalties than criminal laws.

President Sebastian Pinera who visited the region, condemned the attack and said he was deploying extra police to maintain security.

He emphasised that the government is not fighting "against a people - especially against the Mapuche people" but was battling "a minority of criminals, terrorists and subversives who feel they can bypass the law."

The home of Werner Luchsinger, 75, and his wife Vivianne McKay burned down to the ground.

Relatives confirmed the two charred bodies found inside the house were the couple's after they were reported missing.

The family, of Swiss origin, has a large presence in the area, and their properties have been targeted by arson attacks in the past.

This is not the first time authorities have invoked anti-terrorism laws against Mapuche militants, a precedent criticised by human rights groups that also accuse police of using excessive force against the Indians.