Peru: Illegal Loggers Invade Indigenous Area

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Environment News Service

LIMA, Peru -- Mahogany loggers have invaded a reserve area for non-contacted native groups in Peru's southeastern jungle to illegally extract the highly prized lumber. They have clashed with tribes in the area, activists and a leader of an indigenous federation said.

Although the skirmishes appear to be isolated, the Federation of Natives of Madre de Dios River and Tributaries (FENAMAD) this week presented a criminal complaint against the loggers before the Attorney General's office for the crime of genocide.

Four loggers and an unknown number of natives were hurt in a clash on July 18 and 19 near the mouth of Rio Las Piedras, said Victor Pesha, president of FENAMAD. At this time of year, the groups travel to the rivers to collect the eggs of the caricaya turtles, an important element of diet for the native peoples of the zone.

Lily LaTorre, a lawyer with an activist group Racimos de Ungurahui, said that in response to news of the conflict, the Interior Ministry has begun to take action.

"The National Police are today carrying out reconnaissance flights in the area of the reserve," La Torre said. "Members of the police are expected to enter the area on Saturday [August 10] by foot in a bid to drive the loggers out."

It is not clear how many loggers have invaded the zone, but press reports have spoken of hundreds, even thousands. Pesha said the government was aware of the situation early this month when the Interior and Agriculture Ministries signed an agreement pledging security for the indigenous groups.

The Institute of Natural Resources (INRENA), the agency of the Agriculture Ministry charged with the administration of Peru's forests, described the accord as "transcendental" and said its implementation was "one of the most important demands of the indigenous peoples of the Peruvian Amazon."

The reserve, made up of 829,941 hectares (2 million acres) in the provinces of Tahuamanu, Tambopata and Manu in Madre de Dios, was set aside by the government for non-contacted people living in voluntary isolation in bid to preserve their lifestyle and protect their populations from epidemics.

About a tenth of the 80,000 residents of the sparsely populated Madre de Dios department are Amazonian Indians. The reserve includes members of the Mascho-Piro, Yines, Yora and Amahuaca ethnic groups.

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