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Thursday, October 7, 1999 Published at 09:25 GMT 10:25 UK

World: Americas

Canadian lobster wars boil over

Violence has erupted on Canada's Atlantic coast as white and native Indian fishermen become embroiled in an increasingly-bitter lobster war.

At least three people have been injured and hundreds of lobster traps have been destroyed.

A prayer platform, two trucks and a cottage have been set on fire and native Indians say a fishing boat has been sunk.

The clashes follow a ruling last month by the Supreme Court of Canada allowing natives to fish all year round without catch limits.

Micmac and Maliseet Indians immediately began dropping lobster traps in several Atlantic areas even though the season does not start until the end of November.

This has angered non-Indian fishermen who are constrained by strict fishing regulations.

They fear that by the time the season opens, there will be nothing left and that conservation programmes will be in tatters.

Act of war

In the latest incident Micmac Indians accused white fishermen from the nearby village of Neguac of torching a ceremonial prayer platform at the Burnt Church Indian reserve.

"This is an act of war," said one Micmac, as he surveyed the smouldering platform that overlooks Miramichi Bay, considered the richest lobster grounds in Atlantic Canada.

Natives warned the incident would prompt natives from across Canada to converge on Burnt Church in a show of force.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien has appealed for calm and Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal travelled to New Brunswick on Tuesday to meet both sides in an attempt to find a way to end the violence.

Boat sunk

The tension between the two sides boiled over on Sunday when non-natives destroyed hundreds of lobster traps set by natives in Miramichi Bay.

The natives retaliated by burning the pick-up trucks of two white fishermen, one of them wharf president Leigh Morrison.

Reports said three natives were hurt, one seriously, when Mr Morrison rammed their truck minutes later after they drove through his equipment shed.

On Monday night, a nearby summer cottage owned by non-natives was set on fire.

A native Indian lobster boat has also been sunk. The authorities said someone had tied up the vessel in such a way it filled with water when the tide came in.

Petrol bombs

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are investigating all the incidents.

Mountie spokesman Corporal Jacques Giroux said police had discovered two gasoline bombs at a shed near the wharf.

Native warriors clad in combat fatigues and traditional headbands blocked access to the wharf on Tuesday.

"We're here to protect our people and our land," said Edward Francis, the war chief for Burnt Church.

"We're not allowing any Caucasians onto the wharf today," he said. "We don't want any more violence after the bloodshed of the past few days."

Police said they were prepared for further violence and had brought in a helicopter and extra officers to help contain the situation.

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