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Chile military resumes patrols of restive region

Military patrols resumed on Wednesday in Chile’s southern Araucania region as a response to mounting violence linked to territorial claims by the Mapuche Indigenous group. Soldiers began deploying to the region, some 600 kilometers to the south of Santiago, on Tuesday night and were visible on roads on Wednesday. The order to redeploy came on Monday from leftist President Gabriel Boric, who was forced to backtrack on a previous policy not to repeat a move first instigated by his conservative predecessor Sebastian Pinera in October. Boric had begun withdrawing soldiers from Araucania and towns in neighboring Biobio on March 27 but — in the face of a surge in arson — he was forced to reimpose emergency measures. One radical group has called for an armed insurrection. Tanks and military trucks will be focussed on providing security on highways and country roads. In announcing the move on Monday, Interior Minister Izkia Siches said: “We have decided to use all State tools to guarantee security for our citizens.” Around 100 Indigenous people took part in a demonstration outside a jail in the regional capital Temuco in support of “Mapuche political prisoners.” “Resistence is not terrorism. Freedom for Mapuche political prisoners,” read one banner displayed by protesters who set up camp next to bonfires. Some communities in southern Chile have for decades demanded the return of lands they argue belong to them by virtue of ancestral rights — lands which are mainly held by forestry companies and farmers. Radical Indigenous groups have claimed responsibility for some attacks in the area, though there are also reports of vigilante groups dedicated to lumber theft and petty crime.

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