Page last updated at 09:49 GMT, Friday, 10 April 2009 10:49 UK

Chile police 'victimise Mapuche'

By Gideon Long
BBC News, Santiago


A top UN official says there is evidence to suggest police officers in Chile use excessive violence against the indigenous Mapuche communities.

James Anaya, UN special rapporteur for indigenous rights, spoke at the end of a five-day visit to Chile, during which he met President Michelle Bachelet.

The Mapuche have lived in southern Chile since before the Spanish conquest and make up about 4% of the population.

They have long complained of being victimised by the police.

Those claims have found support among groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

I do find, I do feel, there is sufficient basis for taking these allegations very seriously
James Anaya
UN special rapporteur for indigenous rights

They say the police sometimes use excessive violence to break up Mapuche street protests, and have raided Mapuche communities without proper authorisation.

Simmering discontent

Mr Anaya said that - as with all allegations of police brutality - it was difficult to know where the truth lay.

But he said he had heard enough evidence during his trip to Chile to convince him that the claims should be investigated.

"I've received a lot of documentation from NGOs that I consider to do high quality investigative work," he said.

"I've also heard directly from individuals who have talked about their specific experiences. I do find, I do feel, there is sufficient basis for taking these allegations very seriously."

Mr Anaya said the government of Mrs Bachelet had done a lot to help the country's indigenous communities, by reducing rural poverty and giving them greater access to health care.

But he said there was still much more to do.

The Mapuche complain that their ancestral lands have been stolen by the state, and by large forestry companies that have destroyed thousands of acres of native forest to make way for pine and eucalyptus plantations.

Discontent has been simmering in southern Chile for years, and occasionally boils over into violence, with attacks on the police, on farms and on the property of forestry companies.

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