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Thursday, April 29, 1999 Published at 05:27 GMT 06:27 UK

World: Americas

Mapuche Indians occupy estates

By James Reynolds in Santiago

Members of the Mapuche Indian community in southern Chile have occupied several estates as part of a long-running campaign for land rights.

James Reynolds: The Mapuche say the estates belong to them by ancestral right
In a series of raids carried out over the past week, Mapuche activists have occupied 13 large estates owned by logging and farming companies.

Members of the Chilean Parliament are now calling on the government to begin direct negotiations with the Mapuche Indians, who say the land is theirs by ancestral right.

The properties are in the Araucania and Bio-bio regions of southern Chile, where many of the country's one million Mapuches live.

The forestry and farming companies are demanding the immediate return of their land, but authorities in the region say they will not expel the Mapuches as long as the situation remains peaceful.

They say they will wait for the courts to decide what happens.

Mapuche activists divide public opinion

During the last year there have been a series of confrontations in southern Chile between the Mapuches and various companies.

Last month the police used teargas to break up a Mapuche raid on a forestry workers' encampment.

These confrontations have divided public opinion in Chile.

Many people support the Mapuches' attempts to gain more land, but others say the Mapuches are getting in the way of much needed economic development.

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