LIMA, Peru — Police clashed with Amazon Indians protesting proposed water, oil and mining laws Wednesday, leaving at least 29 police officers and nine Indians wounded, Ecuadorean officials said. Indians said two civilians were killed.
Government Minister Gustavo Jalkh said late Wednesday that Indians wounded the police with pellets often used by jungle hunters. He said police used "progressive force" to clear a highway blockade in Ecuador's southeast Amazon, but denied they fired guns.
Ecuador's Amazon Indian federation, CONFENAIE, said in a communique that two Shuar Indians were killed and nine wounded by gunshots in the clash. They did identify the Indians.
Jalkh said at a news conference that he had a report there might have been one civilian death but he did not have confirmation.
Ecuadorean Indians have blocked highways since Monday to protest the laws. The powerful national Indian confederation, CONAIE, called off the protests the same day amid limited turnout across five provinces, but regional Amazon Indian groups continued the blockades.
President Rafael Correa met with Indian groups Wednesday, though the top Indian confederation did not attend. After eight hours, Indian groups broke off the talks and denounced what they called government repression.
"We declare ourselves in permanent mobilization," Humberto Cholango, a Shuar Indian leader, said at a news conference blaming Correa for Wednesday's violence.
Across the Andean region, Indians are fighting left- and right-wing governments that are pushing ambitious oil and mining-led development plans.
In Peru, a government crackdown at an Amazon highway blockade left at least 23 police and 10 Indians dead in June. The Indians were protesting a packet of pro-investment decrees issued by Peru's conservative government to open their ancestral lands to oil and mining projects.
There also have been sporadic clashes in Chile, where the country's largest Indian tribe is pressing demands for political autonomy by occupying farmland and burning farm machinery.
In Ecuador, CONAIE split with Correa, a popular leftist president, when he refused to grant Indians the right to veto concessions granted to companies exploiting natural resources on their lands under a constitution approved last year.
Indian groups say the proposed laws they are opposing threaten their lands and will privatize water resources. Correa says he has no plans to privatize water resources.
The laws are expected to be passed by the National Assembly, which is controlled by Correa's party and its allies.
So far, this week's disjointed mobilization has paled in comparison to CONAIE protests that helped oust Ecuadorean presidents in 2000 and 2005.