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'Many missing' after Peru riots

8 June 09 15:10 GMT

Dozens of people are missing feared dead in northern Peru after some of the country's worst violence for 10 years.

At least 30 indigenous protesters and 24 police officers are reported to have been killed in two days of clashes.

Local people say a military curfew is preventing them from hunting for those still unaccounted for. Witnesses report seeing bodies dumped in a river.

President Alan Garcia has accused the protesters of "barbarity" and said "foreign forces" were also involved.

The violence erupted on Friday after 2,500 Indians - many of them carrying spears and machetes - protested over government plans to drill for gas and oil in what they consider their ancestral lands.

Riots ensued after about 400 riot police tried to clear the roadblock, near the town of Bagua Grande, 1,400km (870 miles) north of the capital Lima.

Dozens of police officers were taken hostage, and nine were reportedly killed by protesters as the army moved in on Saturday to restore order.

The main indigenous leader, Alberto Pizango, is in hiding following an order for his arrest.

Foreign mining

There is now an uneasy peace in the area, the BBC's Dan Collyns in northern Peru says.

The country's security forces now have a firm grip on the area and are enforcing a curfew in the three main towns, he says.

But local people say the measures are preventing them from looking for the dead.

Eyewitnesses reported having seen bodies burnt or dumped in a river.

"The police were shooting to kill, but that's not all, because they hid the dead," one man told the BBC.

"They took them to the ravine and threw them from the helicopter in plastic bags. There are also dead on the river banks. Up there beyond the hill, there are more, as if it were a common grave."

President Garcia has roundly rejected the allegations. He accused the protesters of disarming, tying up and slitting the throats of the officers taken hostage.

President Garcia has blamed foreign forces - widely understood to mean Bolivia and Venezuela - for inciting the unrest, saying on Sunday they did not want Peru to use its "natural resources for the good, growth and quality of life of our people".

Fuel and transport blockades have disrupted Peru's Amazon region for almost two months.

The indigenous tribes want to force Congress to repeal laws that encourage foreign mining in the rainforest.

They have vowed to keep up pressure until their demands are met.

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