by Gustavo Gonzalez
(IPS) SANTIAGO --
attacks on a logging company in southern Chile, blamed on Mapuche Indians, were actually self-inflicted, two parliamentarians charged Feb. 23 after hearing the confessions of two men working as security guards for the Forestal Mininco company.
The declarations by ruling coalition parliamentary deputies Eugenio Tuma and Alejandro Navarro coincided with intense pressure by business groups and the right-wing opposition for the the government of Eduardo Frei to crack down on the "subversive" tactics supposedly used by Mapuche activists laying claim to ancestral territory.
But the latest twist could lead to a major shift in the legal inquiry being conducted in Collipulli, 574 kms south of Santiago.
Tuma, a member of the Party For Democracy, and Navarro, a Socialist Party lawmaker, did not specify whether the most recent incident, which occurred in the early morning hours of Feb. 19, formed part of the alleged chain of self-inflicted attacks.
In the Feb. 19 incident, the worst so far in the area where logging companies and Mapuche communities have clashed in disputes over land since early 1999, Molotov cocktails were thrown at a vehicle in which three security guards of the Forestal Mininco company were riding.
Jorge Luna, one of the three guards, ended up with burns covering one-third of his body and his respiratory system, and had to be transferred to a special hospital in Santiago.
Tuma and Navarro visited Luna before meeting with the minister of the general secretariat of the presidency, Jose Miguel Insulza.
The parliamentarians said seven former employees of the company providing security services to Forestal Mininco were ready to confess their participation in a spate of attacks if they were allowed to invoke the Anti-Terrorism Law, also known as the law on compensation for informers.
Arguing that they committed the attacks on orders from above, the former security guards want to be absolved of all charges and included in the law's witness protection program.
The witness protection system was incorporated into Chile's anti-terrorism legislation during the democratic transition government of Patricio Aylwin (1990-94), with the aim of dismantling armed paramilitary and extreme leftist groups.
argument that the attacks were staged by the companies themselves was raised Feb. 22 by Native leader Victor Ancalaf, a leader of the Arauco-Malleco Coordinator, who denied that members of that organization had taken part in the Feb. 19 incident.
The Frei administration asked the courts to name a special judge to investigate the attack. But the appeals court in Temuco, the capital of the region of Araucania, 673 kms south of Santiago, decided to postpone the decision.
The judges decided, however, to request the records on the case from a judge in Collipulli, Georgina Solis -- an indication that the courts are also uncertain as to whether the Mapuches, initially accused of the attack, were actually involved.
Insulza, a member of the Socialist Party, will become interior minister when president-elect Ricardo Lagos takes office March 11.
Lagos, described as a moderate socialist, will inherit a series of ethnic and environmental conflicts in the southern regions of Bio-bio, Araucania and Los Lagos involving Mapuche claims to ancestral territory, currently being exploited by large logging companies.
Forestal Mininco owns several such tracts of land in those regions which since late 1998 have been occupied by Mapuche activists hoping to reclaim land that belonged to their ancestors.
Rodrigo Hermosilla, in charge of public affairs at Forestal Mininco, told the local daily La Segunda this week that "in 15 months we have suffered 45 serious attacks on our company," which left 15 Carabineros police and workers injured.
Rolando Franco, the company's lawyer, argued after the Feb. 19 incident that authorities should enforce the Law on State Security -- a demand backed by the business association representing logging companies in Chile.
Hermogenes Perez de Arce, a journalist and former parliamentary deputy of the extreme right, lambasted the Frei administration for refusing to apply the Law on State Security "against the extremists who are burning people these days."
According to Perez de Arce, Chile has found itself caught in a climate of violence on the eve of the inauguration of the country's "second socialist government," which he said would be similar to "the first socialist government" led by former president Salvador Allende from 1970 to the Sept. 11, 1973 military coup in which he died.
Allende was elected at the head of the Popular Unity coalition made up of communists, socialists, social democrats and leftist church groupings, while Lagos heads the governing Coalition for Democracy, comprised of christian democrats, socialists and social democrats.
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