August 23, 2020.- Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has vowed to “find and punish the terrorists” in the country’s Mapuche-majority Araucania region, after a nine-year-old child was injured in a gun attack.
Police said the girl was unintentionally shot on Saturday when a cement truck her father had been driving was attacked by unidentified gunmen on a local highway.
“The example of this girl will help us maintain the strength… to find and punish the terrorists who hesitate at nothing, and are capable of injuring a nine-year-old girl,” Pinera said in a televised announcement.
The girl is currently under medical treatment at a hospital in Temuco, in south-central Chile, local media reported.
It was not immediately clear who the gunmen were. Chile’s Public Ministry told reporters that it had launched an investigation to determine the identity and motive of the attackers. But police said militants linked to the Mapuche indigenous group had in the past carried out such attacks on trucks and factories.
Araucania is home to many of the 1.7 million indigenous Mapuche people in the region. It has been the scene of a decades-long conflict between the Mapuche people and the Chilean government over disputed land claims and indigenous rights.
Indigenous activists say their lands are increasingly threatened by agriculture, forestry, and other industries, blaming the government for its failure to stop the environmental threats posed by the expanding industries in the region.
Mapuche spiritual leader Celestino Cordova was in 2014 sentenced to 18 years in jail for alleged murder. Cordova, who was recently on a hunger strike, claims innocence, insisting that the case was politically-motivated.
In recent months, the conflict in Araucania has intensified amid the economic fallout resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, a United Nations human rights team was sent to the region to investigate allegations of forced evictions from public housing facilities, excessive or unnecessary use of force by police, and racial discrimination.
Feature image: A demonstrator holds a Mapuche flag in front of riot police vehicles at a protest against Chile’s government, in Santiago, Chile, on August 21, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)