Thursday, May 27, 2010

Peru indigenous leader detained on return from exile

Peru indigenous leader detained on return from exile
Thursday, 27 May 2010 11:55 UK, BBC

Police have detained a Peruvian indigenous leader as he returned from almost a year in exile in Nicaragua.

Alberto Pizango is accused of inciting protests against planned oil and gas exploration in Peru's rainforest that turned deadly.

More than 30 police officers and civilians died in last June's clashes.

Indigenous people objected to the use of what they consider their ancestral lands but officials said oil and gas finds would benefit all Peruvians.

Mr Pizango fled to Nicaragua last June, where he was granted asylum.

As he prepared to fly to Peru, he told reporters why he was returning: "I think that I have waited too long and will make this enormous sacrifice that has cost me and is costing me so much."

'Political persecution'

Mr Pizango, who faces charges of sedition, conspiracy and leading a rebellion, was detained at passport control at Lima airport.

He has been the leader of the country's most influential indigenous organisation, Aidesep, which last year staged two months of rallies and blockades across Peru's Amazon region.

The protests ended in bloodshed when police tried to clear roadblocks near the town of Bagua.

According to government figures, 10 civilians and 23 police officers died.

Mr Pizango's supporters say he is being politically persecuted, but the authorities say he must face justice for inciting the protests.

Last year's violence highlighted the tension between the government which wants to open up the rainforest to oil and gas exploration and logging, and the opposition of indigenous people, says the BBC's Dan Collyns in Lima.

It was also President Alan Garcia's biggest challenge since taking office in 2006. He was forced to reshuffle his cabinet and several land use laws were suspended.

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