10 December 2010

Rapa Nui Demands Return of Indigenous Lands

Dozens injured in Easter Island land disputes

By Federico Quilodran        
The Associated Press

SANTIAGO, Chile -- A land dispute on Easter Island turned violent Friday when riot police evicting islanders from their ancestral home were surrounded by rock-throwing protesters. About two dozen people were injured in a seven-hours-long confrontation.

The clash began at 5 a.m. when officers moved in to evict 10 people from the home they had been occupying since ousting a government official from the property in September, Rapa Nui lawyer Maka Atan told The Associated Press.

The Rapa Nui resisted and the violence left 17 officers and eight civilians hurt, according to police. Three islanders and one policeman were evacuated to mainland Chile for treatment. But protesters said that 19 islanders were injured and denied seeing any police hurt.

The official native name of Easter Island, known for its stunning gigantic stone heads known as Moais, is Rapa Nui, and that's what many natives call themselves, refusing to identify with Chile, which annexed the island in 1888.

In recent years, tourism and migration have increased pressure to control available land on the 10 mile (16 kilometer) by 15 mile (24 kilometer) island, and the Rapa Nui have increasingly taken matters into their own hands, seizing a dozen properties they said were illegally taken from their families generations ago.

A woman who answered the local government official's phone in the island's main town of Hanga Roa said there would be no official comment on Friday's violence.

But Atan, speaking by phone from the island 2,237 miles (3,580 kilometers) west of Chile, said riot police used batons and shotguns against them, firing pellets at close range at their heads. He said he himself was shot in the back with pellets.  Images shared with The AP show several islanders bleeding from head wounds.

About a dozen buildings are currently being occupied by Rapa Nui people, who say Chile illegally took their family's ancestral homes on tiny Easter Island, where a total population of fewer than 5,000 people include about 2,200 Rapa Nuis.

The island's top government authority, Valparaiso Governor Raul Celis, said from mainland Chile that "the evictions will continue."  Chilean media reported that a planeload of police reinforcements was on its way to the island.

Atan said he witnessed police firing pellet guns at people's faces from a distance of just one meter (yard).
"They were shooting to kill. It seems like this is going to end with them killing the Rapa Nui," he said, adding: "The land on this island has always been Rapa Nui. That's why we're asking for our land to be returned."

Rapa Nui leader denounces Chile government over violent evictions
Radio New Zealand International

The president of the Rapa Nui Parliament has denounced Chilean leaders over the way they have tackled the land occupations on Easter Island.

Leviante Araki says the President of Chile, Sebastian Pinera, and the interior minister, Rodrigo Hinzpeter, are scoundrels and thieves following last Friday’s violent eviction of Rapa Nui occupiers of public buildings. Mr Pinera has justified the police action, saying they moved in to uphold public order and execute court orders.

But Mr Araki has told Chilean media his people have no fear and if they have to die they will. He says before last week’s violence they used to believe in Chile but now they want nothing from Chile and move away from it. The Chilean authorities say they want to end the remaining occupations within weeks.

Calls for calm in violence-hit Easter Island

There are calls for calm on Easter Island after Chilean security forces opened fire on indigenous land protesters, who have been occupying a government official's house for months.

Three islanders and one policeman were evacuated to mainland Chile for treatment following the violence, while another 20 were injured.

Chilean forces had gone to a property on the Polynesian island to evict 10 people who had been occupying the house since ousting the government official from it in September. They opened fire after being surrounded by rock-throwing protesters.

The protesters, who are the descendants of the original Polynesian inhabitants of the island, claim 13 properties on the island, including one hotel, were all illegally taken from their families decades ago and are demanding their return.

Last month, a Court of Appeal ruled they had a legitimate claim to ancestral ownership but the island tribunal decided to issue eviction notices anyway.

Speaking to ONE News on the Chilean mainland, the governor of the seaport city of Valparaiso, Raul Celis, said that the situation on Easter Island was complicated.

"The situation, I would not say it's serious, but complicated. There was an eviction and buildings had been occupied illegally for several months," he said.

"Obviously there isn't a situation of complete normality on Easter Island."

The Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) has now intervened, urging all parties to seek a peaceful outcome. It says it is concerned for the indigenous people of the island.

"We are concerned about the outcome because we have not received any more news. I think there is a media clampdown on Rapanui as of now," PCC spokesperson Fe'iloakitau Tevi said.

The council has also asked the Red Cross for help in a bid to prevent violence escalating further. Easter Island, also called Rapanui, is one of the most isolated inhabited islands in the world and a territory of Chile.
The tiny island is famous for more than 800 moai or statues carved by the original Polynesian inhabitants.

Troops open fire as Rapa Nui land conflict escalates
Radio Australia

Armed Chilean troops have opened fire on unarmed civilians on the island of Rapa Nui during conflict over land rights. The Chilean government annexed the island which lies about three thousand miles off its coast, more than a century ago.

Hawaii Public Radio's Kayla Rosenfeld spoke to cameraman Santi Hitorangi who was filming the violence, when he was shot, along with dozens of other people. He has since told Pacific Beat that he has gone into hiding.

Grant McCall is an anthropologist from the University of New South Wales in Australia who lived on Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, for seven years.