'Naked' Natives Block Illegal Loggers in Peru
by Jude Webber
LIMA, Peru - Hundreds of members of some of the world's last indigenous 
tribes still living cut off from the outside world have emerged from 
their isolation to confront illegal mahogany loggers in Peru's 
southeastern jungle that are invading their land, activists and officials 
said on Saturday.
Four loggers have already been reported injured by arrows in the tense 
stand-off, which began a few days ago on a river deep in the Peruvian 
Amazon near the
border with Brazil.
The head of a native peoples' federation in the region told Reuters he 
feared "genocide" could ensue after his group intercepted radio 
communications in which the loggers were appealing for reinforcements and 
weapons to return attacks.
The Native Federation of Madre de Dios River and Tributaries said it had 
received reports from loggers returning from the area to the town of 
Puerto Maldonado that around 400 native people were massed on the banks 
of the Piedras river, a route used by loggers.
Lily La Torre, a federation official, said one logger had reported the 
natives were "naked" but had no other information on what they looked 
like. At this time of year, the indigenous people head to the river banks 
to collect the eggs of the caricaya turtles, considered a great delicacy, 
she said.
"If the state does not send in police in the next few days, there could 
be deaths," the federation's president, Victor Pesha, told Reuters. "Our 
fear is that genocide could happen."
About a tenth of the 80,000 residents of the Madre de Dios department are 
Amazonian Indians. Experts say the uncontacted peoples live in voluntary 
isolation in small groups, supporting themselves as hunter-gatherers and 
from fishing.
Peru established a reserve in Madre de Dios for uncontacted peoples in 
April, which should be off-limits to the loggers.
But activists say hundreds of loggers are in the area near the reserve, 
working on commission for big timber companies, at least one of which 
they say in based
in the United States.
The area is the largest remaining mahogany stand in Peru and it is 
illegal to cut down mahogany there. The hard, reddish-brown wood is 
highly prized and fetches big prices on international markets.
Nature groups say more than 4 million cubic feet of mahogany from Latin 
America reach global markets every year, mostly from Brazil, Bolivia and 
Peru, and that much of that is illegal logged.
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said he had no immediate 
information on how many police could be sent in to eject the illegal 
loggers from the area, or
when, but Interior Minister Gino Costa said earlier in the week the 
government would set up two police posts, one on the Piedras river. 
La Torre said the federation had heard the loggers' radio conversations 
via its own broad-band radio, which it uses to contact its officials. 
According to their reports, she said, the native people had strung vines 
along the river to prevent the passage of loggers upstream.
Clashes between loggers and uncontacted tribes are not new -- Pesha said 
around 20 people had been killed in confrontations in recent months and 
some native people have reportedly been shot dead in some clashes.
But La Torre said there had never been reports of so many uncontacted 
tribes-people emerging to challenge the loggers.
She said the four injured loggers had reportedly been treated at a 
medical post in a small Indian community, but she had no details of their 
condition. The reports could not be independently confirmed.
Copyright 2002 Reuters Ltd
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