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Friday, August 6, 1999 Published at 15:31 GMT 16:31 UK

World: Americas

Chile aid for Indians 'inadequate'

Santiago police arrest Mapuche demonstrators outside the ceremony

A spokesman for the Mapuche Indians in Chile says a government aid package for the country's indigenous peoples will do little to ease their plight.

Mapuche spokesman Reinaldo Mariqueo: "Too little, too late"
Chilean President Eduardo Frei unveiled $274m worth of measures designed to address discrimination against the country's Indian groups and ease tensions.

Reinaldo Mariqueo, interviewed by the BBC World Service, said he welcomed any government support to ease the economic hardship of Chile's indigenous peoples.

But he said the aid would have little impact in practice on Indians' lives as they would not be in charge of how it was spent.

"It's very little, too late," he said. "Because the problem is so big I don't think $300m is going to make much difference."

[ image: Mr Frei urged a greater role for Indians]
Mr Frei urged a greater role for Indians
Some 1,000 Indian representatives attended a meeting in the capital, Santiago, for the signing of an anti-discrimination accord called the Pact for Citizen Respect.

Mr Frei, wearing a traditional Indian poncho, said the assistance was intended to help repay Chile's debt to its indigenous population.

He called on the Chilean Congress to pass new laws to recognise Indian cultures and better integrate them into society.

Several Indian leaders made speeches urging the government to pay greater respect to indigenous customs and social demands.

The BBC's James Reynolds: "The government hopes the aid will reduce tension"
The four-year package, the result of extensive negotiations, includes funding for housing, roads and education, as well as job creation measures intended to raise Indians' standard of living.

There was, however, no immediate promise of help on the issue of land rights, which has led to a number of confrontations in recent months between Mapuches, the largest Indian group, and landowners.

The Mapuches, who used to occupy vast territories in southern Chile now used for logging, say land was stolen from their ancestors. They have been campaigning for rights to greater autonomy.

Five arrests

President Frei referred to the centuries-old "appropriation" of former Indian territories in his speech but did not elaborate.

[ image:  ]
Chile has more than one million Indians, most of whom are Mapuches.

They alone account for more than 10% of the country's population of 15 million, and live mainly in the southern provinces of Araucania and Bio-bio.

Some Indian groups stayed away from the ceremony, saying Chile's constitution gave sufficient protection for all the country's citizens.

Police arrested five Indian demonstrators who shouted slogans and threw eggs outside the government palace during the ceremony, but no violence was reported.

The meeting was announced on Monday after a timber company in the south of the country was set on fire.

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